Fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids. But what if you can't eat seafood? Can omega-3 enriched eggs or peanut butter provide the same health benefits? Nutrition Diva answers a listener question.
Nutrition Diva podcast listener Adele writes: “My husband is allergic to fish so he buys omega-3 eggs instead. Do you get the same benefits from eating omega-3 eggs as you would from eating fish?"
How Do They Make Omega-3 Eggs?
You’ve probably seen omega-3 enriched eggs at the grocery store. Perhaps you’ve wondered how they get the omega-3 into the eggs? It’s actually a pretty low tech method: They feed the hens flaxseed, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids. Just like you and me, hens that take in more omega-3s end up with more of these fatty acids in their tissues, and that applies to their eggs as well.
In terms of protein, both fish and eggs are high quality protein sources, although you’d have to eat about three eggs to get the same amount of protein as in a 3-ounce serving of salmon. In terms of omega-3 fatty acids, there are two things to keep in mind. One is how much omega-3 you’re actually getting.
The oilier ocean fish (like salmon, mackerel, and sardines) tend to be higher in omega-3 while the milder fish and and shellfish are lower.
How Much Omega-3 Can You Get from Eggs?
The amount of omega-3 in an enriched egg varies considerably from around 100 to 500 mg per egg. The most popular brand of omega-3 eggs claims just 125 mg of omega-3 per egg. By comparison, a 4-ounce serving of salmon (or just one tablespoon of flaxseed) is going to give you six or seven times as much omega-3 as a serving of omega-3 eggs. (I’m considering two large eggs to be a serving.)
Not all fish is quite as rich in omega-3 as salmon is. Generally, the oilier ocean fish (like salmon, mackerel, and sardines) tend to be higher in omega-3 while the milder fish and and shellfish are lower. A serving of grouper, flounder, or perch, for example will have about as much omega-3 as you’d get from a couple of omega-3 eggs. Shrimp, tilapia, and crab are even lower in omega-3s.
See Also: Can You Get Too Much Omega-3?
What Kind of Omega-3 Do You Get in Eggs?
The other thing to bear in mind is the type of omega-3 you’re getting. When we say “omega-3s,” we are actually referring to a whole family of related fatty acids. Flaxseed, chia seed, hemp, and omega-3 eggs all contain Alpha Linolenic Acid, or ALA. The omega-3 fats that we get from seafood are mostly longer-chain omega-3 fats, including EPA and DHA.
See Also: DHA and Your Brain
These longer chain fatty acids in fish are far more biologically active than ALA. In fact, in order to use ALA, our bodies first have to convert it into those longer chain fatty acids. The problem is that this conversion process is not terribly efficient. As a result, eating foods that are rich in ALA (such as flax or omega-3 eggs) will not have the same benefits as eating fish.