Importance of Omega 3s for People with Diabetes

Omega 3 fatty acids, touted for their numerous health benefits, are especially important if you have diabetes. While it is not clear how or whether these nutrients directly affect blood sugar, research shows that omega 3s may reduce inflammation, improve insulin absorption and lower your risk of heart disease.

Fatty Fish Omega 3 Image

Also, a recent study done in the Netherlands found that consuming omega 3s may protect older people with diabetes who have had a heart attack from future life-threatening cardiac events. Here's the rundown on omega 3s.

Types of Omega 3s

There are three types of omega 3s: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alphalinoleic acid (ALA). The first two are primarily found in cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, halibut and sardines. (A three-ounce serving of salmon has up to 1.8 grams of good-for-you omega-3s!) ALA, which is converted into DHA and EPA in the body, is present in certain nut oils, such as canola, flaxseed and walnut oils, as well as in soybeans and some leafy greens.

The best way to get omega 3s is through your diet, preferably by putting fatty fish on your dinner table on a regular basis. The American Heart Association recommends that most adults eat two servings per week of cold-water fatty fish, which should provide an average intake of about 500 milligrams a day. If you have diabetes and/or heart disease (and thus more inflammation), you may require more omega 3s, between one and three grams per day.

If you’re not a big fan of fish, adding flax or chia seeds to your diet is a great way to get some ALAs. Sprinkle them on cereal, yogurt, salads, or grind and add to flour used for baking.

A variety of foods—including pastas, breads, eggs, cereals and margarines—are now enriched with omega 3s. These are helpful, but shouldn't be your sole source, as they don't provide a substantial amount. Check nutrition labels to see how much you're getting.

Omega 3 Supplements

Fish oil supplements are useful if you eat little fish or require higher amounts of omega 3s. Thirty-seven percent of U.S. adults report taking omega 3 supplements. Read labels to make sure your supplement contains both EPA and DHA. If you experience side effects such as "fishy" burps or gas, experiment with different brands or try a time-released variety.

Krill oil (from tiny ocean-dwelling creatures) has gotten a lot of hype. There's no solid evidence that it is more beneficial than fish oil, and it can trigger reactions in people with shellfish allergies.

If you have very high levels of the blood fats known as triglycerides—above 500 mg/dL—your doctor may prescribe Lovaza, the first Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved prescription fish oil supplement. While Lovaza costs more than over-the-counter (OTC ) supplements, fewer capsules are required to provide your recommended daily dose. Because Lovaza is a prescription drug, it must undergo regular testing by the FDA. Such testing is not required of manufacturers of OTC fish oil supplements.

Adapted from our sister publication Diabetes Focus (Summer 2012)

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 18 Apr 2012

Last Modified: 11 Sep 2015