by Ashley Jordan Ferira, PhD, RDN
You may have heard that many Americans are not getting enough vitamin D, calcium, potassium, etc. from their diet. But do you think about omega-3s as a nutrient gap? You should. Research from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) demonstrates that> 90% of Americans are not meeting recommendations for omega-3 intake,with key differences observed in age, sex, and ethnicity subgroups.1
Although the cardiovascular benefits of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) have been demonstrated in observational and interventional studies,2-3 research clearly reveals that the majority of the US population is not meeting recommended levels for fish or omega-3 fatty acid intake.4 Aside from purified omega-3 supplements, the richest dietary source of EPA and DHA is oily fish, including salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, and albacore tuna.5
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends:2
- Heathy individuals: consume a variety of oily fish at least 2 servings per week, which provides about 500 mg/day of EPA + DHA
- Patients with coronary heart disease (CHD): 1 g/day of combined EPA + DHA, from oily fish and/or fish oil supplementation in consultation with a physician
- Patients needing triglyceride-lowering: 2 – 4 g/day of supplemental EPA + DHA under physician’s care
The present study investigated the long-chain omega-3 intake (EPA and DHA) across key age, sex, and ethnicity subgroups in the US.1 NHANES 2003-2008 data for 24,621 individuals was used, capturing EPA and DHA intake from both foods and supplements.
Study findings for long-chain omega-3 intake:
- Over 90% of the US population consumed < 500 mg/day of EPA+DHA from food
- Median intake from food was only 110 mg/day
- For the top consumers, fish was the #1 dietary contributor
- Men ≥ 20 years old had the highest intake
- Children, women of childbearing age, pregnant women, and lactating women had the lowest intake
- Mexican-Americans were the ethnicity with the lowest intake
- Only 6.2% reported omega-3 supplement use, which did not significantly alter the median daily intake from food
Why is this Clinically Relevant?
- EPA and DHA are heart-healthy, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids that are one of the most prevalent nutrient gaps in the US
- Children, women of childbearing age, pregnant/lactating women, and Mexican Americans are subgroups consuming the lowest levels of EPA and DHA
- Through targeted dietary and supplement recommendations, clinicians can help patients address their omega-3 “gap” and meet AHA guidelines
- Richter CK, Bowen KJ. Total long-chain n-3 fatty acid intake and food sources in the United States compared to recommended intakes: NHANES 2003-2008. Lipids. 2017;52(11):917-927.
- Kris-Etherton PM Harris WS and Appel LJ for the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee (2002). Fish consumption, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and cardiovascular disease [published correction appears in Circulation 2003;107:512]. Circulation 106:2747–2757.
- Del Gobbo LC, Imamura F, Aslibekyan S, et al. ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid biomarkers and coronary heart disease: pooling project of 19 cohort studies. JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(8):1155-1166.
- Papanikolaou Y, Brooks J. US adults are not meeting recommended levels for fish and omega-3 fatty acid intake: results on an analysis using observational data from NHANES 2003-2008. Nutr J. 2014;13:31.
- American Heart Association. Fish and omega-3 fatty acids. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/HealthyDietGoals/Fish-and-Omega-3-Fatty-Acids_UCM_303248_Article.jsp#. Accessed December 8, 2017.