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I'm allergic to fish. How do I get omega 3s?

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The question

I'm allergic to fish and seafood (and eggs and barley). It seems that almost all Omega 3s are obtained through eating fish or taking fish oil supplements. What would be an alternative?

The answer

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For people allergic to fish, there are two alternative ways to get your omega-3 fatty acids. You can take a vegetarian source of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), the omega-3 fat that's found in fish oil. Or, you can add flax oil to your diet.

Let me back up for a moment. There are three different omega-3 fatty acids in foods - DHA and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) in fish oil and ALA (alpha linolenic acid) found in flax, walnuts, soy beans and canola oil.

There's plenty of strong evidence to suggest that a regular intake of DHA and EPA reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke.

These fats make the blood less likely to form clots and protect against irregular heartbeats that cause sudden cardiac death. That's why the Heart and Stroke Foundation urges Canadians to consume fatty fish at least twice per week.

DHA may also help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease and relieve depression and inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and colitis.

DHA supplements made from algae are available for people who are allergic to fish or are vegetarian. Life brand's DHA contains 200 milligrams of DHA per capsule.

A steady intake of ALA can also protect from heart disease, but the data is much less compelling compared to the evidence for DHA. Still, if you don't eat fish, getting ALA from your diet could lower the odds of developing heart disease.

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Adult women need 1.1 grams of ALA per day (1100 milligrams) and men require 1.6 grams (1600 milligrams). It's not hard to get your ALA. One teaspoon (5 ml) of flax oil provides 2.4 grams, a teaspoon of canola oil offers 0.4 grams, and ½ cup (125 ml) of soybeans delivers 0.5 grams of ALA.

Send dietitian Leslie Beck your questions at She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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