Total Long-Chain n-3 Fatty Acid Intake and Food Sources in the United States Compared to Recommended Intakes: NHANES 2003-2008

Lipids. 2017 Nov;52(11):917-927. doi: 10.1007/s11745-017-4297-3. Epub 2017 Sep 27.


The American Heart Association recommends consuming fish (particularly oily fish) at least two times per week, which would provide ≈ 0.5 g/day of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) + docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) for cardiovascular disease risk reduction. Previous analyses indicate that this recommendation is not being met; however, few studies have assessed different ethnicities, subpopulations requiring additional n-3 fatty acid intake (i.e., children and pregnant and/or lactating women), or deciles of intake. Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2003-2008 was used to assess n-3 fatty acid intake from foods and supplements in the US population, according to age, sex, and ethnicity. A unique "EPA equivalents" factor, which accounts for potential conversion of shorter-chain n-3 fatty acids, was used to calculate total long-chain n-3 fatty acid intake. Data are reported for 24,621 individuals. More than 90% consumed less than the recommended 0.5 g/day from food sources (median = 0.11 g/day; mean = 0.17 g/day). Among the top 15% of n-3 fatty acid consumers, fish was the largest dietary contributor (71.2%). Intake was highest in men aged 20 years or more, and lowest in children and women who are or may become pregnant and/or are lactating. Among ethnicities, intake was lowest in Mexican-Americans. Only 6.2% of the total population reported n-3 fatty acid supplement use, and this did not alter median daily intake. Additional strategies are needed to increase awareness of health benefits (particularly among Mexican-Americans and women of childbearing age) and promote consumption of oily fish or alternative dietary sources to meet current recommendations.

Keywords: Docosahexaenoic acid; Eicosapentaenoic acid; Oily fish; n-3 fatty acid supplements.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diet
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Recommended Dietary Allowances
  • Seafood
  • United States
  • Young Adult


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3