Food and Nutrition

New Study Shows That Eating Omega-3s Is Directly Linked to a Longer Lifespan—These Are the Top 5 Food Sources

Photo: Stocksy/Ezequiel Giménez
Even though we've moved way past Tamagotchis and AOL, it seems we still have a collective '90s hangover regarding our confusion about foods with fat. All the marketing around "low-fat" everything has proved to be tough to shake despite the fact that doctors, dietitians, and researchers have been saying that omega-3s and omega-6 fatty acids are particularly important for heart, gut, and brain health.

The evidence that omega-3s, in particular, is important for health is further confirmed by a new study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers set out to determine if there is a connection between omega-3s and longevity by tracking 2,240 participants over 11 years and analyzing the omega-3 levels in their blood. So, what did they find out? The researchers discovered that having higher levels of omega-3s in the blood could predict a lower mortality rate in people over the age of 65 years. According to their analysis, people with high omega-3 levels in their blood who did not smoke had the highest survival estimate.

So, why are omega-3 foods correlated with living longer? "Omega-3s are associated with heart health benefits and may have a role in combating inflammation," explains Amanda Baker Lemein, RD, who is unaffiliated with the study. She adds that omega-3 fatty acids occur in several different forms, many of which are found in the most nutrient-rich foods.

"The three main omega-3 fatty acids include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)," Lemein says. "Omega-6s are also fatty acids, mainly found in vegetable oils. While both types of fatty acids are unsaturated fats and important for heart health, omega-6s are more readily available in the typical Western diet. So in order to keep a more balanced ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s, experts recommend increasing one’s intake of omega-3 foods, which [by contrast] are often lacking in the typical Western diet."

Want to make sure you're getting your fill? Here, Lemein highlights the five top omega-3 foods for heart health and longevity:

1. Fatty fish

Fish is one of the best omega-3 foods, according to Lemein. Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, tuna, and mackerel are particularly high in the nutrient. "Many nutrition experts recommend starting simple by including two servings of fatty fish per week into your daily diet," Lemein says.

Can fish oil supplements deliver the same benefits? Watch the video below to find out:

2. Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds may be small, but Lemein says they're full of omega-3s. In fact, their high omega-3 content is the reason that they've been linked to helping protect against cardiovascular disease. Besides omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseeds are also a good source of magnesium, thiamine, and fiber.

3. Chia seeds

Another small-but-mighty seed Lemein says are packed with healthy fats: chia seeds. While they are similar to flaxseeds in size, they're actually from two different plants. Chia seeds are higher in fiber and protein than flaxseeds, but they are both strong sources of omega-3s. Whichever one you prefer, you're instantly increasing the nutrient density to your meal by adding a teaspoon.

4. Walnuts

All nuts are nutrient-rich, but as far as foods with omega-3s go, walnuts are the nuts that deliver the most. It's why the nut has been linked to increased cardiovascular health, improved cognitive function, decreased symptoms of depression, and overall reduced inflammation.

5. Algae oils

What you cook with can also add more omega-3s to your meal. Lemein says algae oil in particular is a rich source of the fatty acid. Other cooking oils with omega-3s include canola oil, flaxseed oil, and walnut oil—no surprise with the latter two, right?

"Consuming adequate amounts of foods with omega-3s is an important part of any diet," Lemein says. That starts with the foods she highlighted above. It's a good thing these food sources all happen to be delicious because, if science is any indicator, working them into your diet regularly means there's a good chance you'll be eating them for a very long time.

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