Does Cheese Have Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly important for health. They provide benefits for your heart, brain, eyes and more. Many people turn to fatty fish as a source of omega-3s. But can you also get these healthy fats from dairy products like cheese?
- Omega-3s in Cheese
- Why Omega-3s Matter
- How Much Omega-3 Do You Need?
- Top 10 Food Sources of Omega-3s
- Healthiest Cheeses
- Healthy Ways to Eat Cheese
- Omega-3s From Cheese: Key Takeaways
Frequently Asked Questions
- Q: Does aged cheese have more omega-3s?
- Q: Do artisanal cheeses have more omega-3s?
- Q: Is cheese enriched with omega-3s healthier?
- Q: Is goat cheese more nutritious than cow cheese?
- Q: Should I eat cheese to get calcium if I don’t eat fish?
- Q: Can I get my omega-3s only from grass-fed dairy?
- Q: Is cheese unhealthy?
- The Bottom Line
Cheese does contain small amounts of omega-3s. However, the quantity is minimal compared to fatty fish and other omega-3-rich foods. While cheese can fit into a healthy diet, relying on it for omega-3s is not recommended.
Below is a detailed look at omega-3 content of different types of cheese, how much you need, and better sources to meet your omega-3 needs.
Omega-3s in Cheese
Cheese provides tiny amounts of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-based omega-3 fat.
However, cheese doesn’t contain meaningful amounts of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) or docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the omega-3s linked to most health benefits.
A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of cheddar cheese contains around 4–10 mg of ALA, or less than 1% of the ALA found in a tablespoon of chia seeds or flaxseeds (1, 2).
Other common types of cheese like mozzarella, Swiss, Monterey jack and brie provide similarly low amounts of ALA at around 2–15 mg per ounce (3).
Cheeses made from sheep or goat milk are slightly higher in ALA, but an ounce still only provides 25–50 mg (4).
For reference, a 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of salmon packs over 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA (5).
Some cheeses may be fortified with small amounts of EPA and DHA during processing, though amounts can vary widely. Always check the label for omega-3 content.
While cheese does contain tiny traces of the plant-based ALA omega-3 fat, the amounts are minimal compared to much better sources.
Why Omega-3s Matter
Before discussing which foods are good sources of omega-3 fats, let’s cover why omega-3s are so important for health in the first place.
Omega-3 fatty acids provide major benefits for heart health. They can:
- Lower triglycerides - High triglycerides are a risk factor for heart disease. Omega-3s can lower them by up to 30% (6).
- Reduce blood pressure - Omega-3s can lower blood pressure, especially in people with high blood pressure (7).
- Help prevent plaque buildup - Omega-3s reduce plaque buildup in your arteries, reducing heart attack and stroke risk (8).
- Reduce arrhythmias - Omega-3s help normalize heart rhythms and reduce likelihood of sudden cardiac death (9).
- Improve cholesterol - Omega-3s raise “good” HDL and lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (10).
Omega-3s play an important role in brain health and development:
- Improve memory and thinking - Adults with higher omega-3 intake and levels have better memory and cognition (11, 12).
- Fight depression - Higher omega-3 intake and blood levels are linked to reduced depression (13).
- Benefit fetal development - Omega-3s are critical for brain development in babies before and after birth (14).
- Support aging brains - Omega-3s may slow age-related mental decline and Alzheimer’s disease (15).
Omega-3s are concentrated in your retina and support eye development and health.
They help reduce risk of:
- Macular degeneration - A leading cause of blindness (16).
- Dry eye disease - Omega-3s improve tear production and quality (17).
- Poor vision in kids - Higher omega-3 intake during pregnancy reduces child’s vision problems (18).
Inflammation contributes to nearly all chronic diseases. Omega-3s have strong anti-inflammatory properties.
- Reduce inflammation - Omega-3s lower inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein (CRP) (19).
- Help arthritis - Omega-3s reduce joint stiffness and pain in rheumatoid arthritis (20).
- May benefit autoimmune conditions - Omega-3s may help manage lupus, eczema, IBD and psoriasis (21).
Some other potential benefits linked to higher omega-3 intake include:
- Smoother, more hydrated skin (22)
- Reduced menopause symptoms (23)
- Improved body composition (24)
- Healthier pregnancy and baby (14)
- Protection against certain cancers (25)
As you can see, omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly important for overall health and development. They affect nearly every cell and organ system in your body for the better.
That’s why it’s recommended to get adequate amounts of these beneficial fats.
How Much Omega-3 Do You Need?
Most major health organizations recommend getting at least 250–500 mg of combined EPA and DHA omega-3s per day for optimal health (26, 27).
Higher daily intakes of 1,000–2,000 mg are sometimes advised for people who need to lower elevated triglycerides or blood pressure (28).
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should get at least 300–900 mg of DHA daily for proper fetal brain and eye development. Kids also need DHA for brain growth, with intake recommendations varying based on age (29).
Vegans and vegetarians are often deficient in omega-3s and may need even higher daily doses from supplements or fortified foods (30).
When reading supplement labels, pay attention to the combined total of EPA and DHA — not just fish oil content. Plant-based ALA omega-3s convert very inefficiently into EPA and DHA in your body (31).
As you can see, cheese contains nowhere near the 250–500 mg minimum recommendation for omega-3s. Relying on it would leave you deficient.
Top 10 Food Sources of Omega-3s
To meet your daily omega-3 needs, focus on foods rich in EPA and DHA like fish, as well as ALA sources like seeds, nuts and algae.
Here are the top 10 food sources:
1. Fatty Fish
Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna and sardines provide EPA and DHA.
Just 3 ounces (85 grams) of salmon provides over 1,000 mg of omega-3s (5).
Aim to eat fatty fish at least twice weekly to meet omega-3 recommendations.
2. Fish Oil Supplement
Taking a fish oil supplement is an easy way to boost EPA and DHA intake.
Many capsules provide 500–1,000 mg of combined DHA and EPA per serving.
Opt for algae-based supplements if you’re vegetarian.
3. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are the richest plant-based source of the omega-3 ALA, providing 5 grams per ounce (32).
They can be added to smoothies, oats, yogurt and more.
Flaxseeds provide 2,300 mg of ALA per ounce (33).
Try adding freshly ground flax to baked goods, smoothies and cereals.
Walnuts contain 2,500 mg of ALA per ounce (34).
Enjoy walnuts on their own or sprinkled onto salads and yogurt.
Soybeans, edamame, tofu and other soy foods contain omega-3s.
A half cup (170 grams) of boiled soybeans has 1,000 mg of ALA (35).
7. Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds provide 1,200 mg of ALA per ounce (36).
Add hemp seeds to smoothies, cereals and yogurt.
8. Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts are a good source of ALA, providing 135 mg per half cup (44 grams) (37).
Roast or steam these mini cabbages.
9. Algal Oil
Algal oil provides vegan DHA and EPA from algae.
A half teaspoon (2.5 ml) has 170 mg of DHA and 110 mg of EPA (38).
Oysters pack 500 mg of omega-3s per 3-ounce (85-gram) serving (39).
Enjoy oysters cooked or raw on occasion if you eat seafood.
Prioritizing these omega-3-rich foods guarantees you meet daily recommendations for these essential fats.
Cheese only provides trace amounts of the ALA omega-3 fat and little to no EPA or DHA.
While cheese isn’t a meaningful source of omega-3 fats, some types make healthier choices than others.
The best options include:
Cottage cheese is a fresh, soft cheese made from curds. It’s high in protein, low in fat and sodium, and contains probiotics.
Feta packs fewer calories and less fat than hard cheeses. It offers compounds that may help manage cholesterol and blood pressure.
Part-skim mozzarella is lower in fat and calories than full-fat varieties. It contains potassium, calcium and vitamin A.
Fresh ricotta cheese is creamy, delicious and packed with protein, calcium, phosphorus and vitamins A, B2 and B12.
Parmesan cheese is low in carbs and high in protein, calcium and other nutrients. A little grated Parmesan packs tons of flavor.
Goat cheese is easier to digest than cheese made from cow's milk. It provides healthy fats and fewer calories than soft cheeses.
While cheese can be part of a healthy diet, it shouldn’t be relied on as an omega-3 source. Focus on fatty fish, oils, seeds, nuts and algae to meet your daily needs.
Healthy Ways to Eat Cheese
Here are some healthy ways to incorporate cheese into a balanced diet:
- Lightly sprinkle Parmesan or feta cheese on salads and pasta dishes. A little goes a long way.
- Melt a tablespoon of goat cheese over cooked veggies or baked potatoes.
- Stuff sliced mushrooms with ricotta and fresh herbs.
- Add a spoonful of cottage cheese to smoothies.
- Make homemade pizza with tomato sauce, veggies and a sprinkle of mozzarella.
- Mix cubed feta into whole grain side dishes like farro or quinoa.
- Snack on mozzarella string cheese or cottage cheese with fruit.
- Use small amounts of strongly flavored cheeses like Parmesan and goat cheese to add big flavor.
Cheese can be part of a healthy diet when used in moderation and balanced with omega-3-rich foods. Focus on the healthiest cheese options.
Omega-3s From Cheese: Key Takeaways
To wrap up, here are the key points to know about cheese and omega-3s:
- Cheese provides only trace amounts of the plant-based omega-3 ALA and little to no EPA or DHA.
- You would need to eat a large amount of cheese to meet omega-3 recommendations, which isn’t recommended for health.
- Fatty fish, omega-3 oils, seeds, nuts and algae offer far more omega-3s than cheese.
- Prioritize these omega-3-rich foods to meet the 250–500 mg daily minimum intake.
- Cheese can be part of a healthy diet in moderation, but shouldn’t be relied on as an omega-3 source.
- Focus on healthier cheese options like cottage, feta, mozzarella, ricotta and Parmesan.
While cheese tastes great, it’s not a shortcut for getting your omega-3s. For optimal health, eat a variety of omega-3-rich foods every day.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to some common questions about cheese and omega-3s:
Q: Does aged cheese have more omega-3s?
No, the aging process doesn’t increase cheese’s omega-3 content. Aged cheeses actually tend to be higher in unhealthy saturated fat.
Q: Do artisanal cheeses have more omega-3s?
No, artisanal cheeses crafted in small batches don’t provide higher amounts of omega-3 fats. Their omega-3 content is minimal.
Q: Is cheese enriched with omega-3s healthier?
Some cheeses have added EPA and DHA oils. If they provide at least 250 mg per serving, they can count toward your daily intake. But omega-3-enriched cheese is still high in calories, sodium and saturated fat. Fish or supplements are healthier sources.
Q: Is goat cheese more nutritious than cow cheese?
Goat milk cheese is easier to digest for some people. But the omega-3 content is similarly low between cheeses made from cow, goat or sheep milk.
Q: Should I eat cheese to get calcium if I don’t eat fish?
Cheese is high in calcium, but so are leafy greens, legumes, nuts, seeds and tofu. Eat a variety of non-dairy calcium sources instead of relying on high-fat cheese.
Q: Can I get my omega-3s only from grass-fed dairy?
Grass-fed dairy has a better fatty acid profile with more omega-3s than conventional dairy. But the amount remains small, so you still need other omega-3 sources.
Q: Is cheese unhealthy?
In moderation, cheese can be part of a healthy diet. But relying on high amounts of cheese isn’t a good idea due to its high saturated fat, sodium and calories.
Prioritize fatty fish, plant oils, nuts, seeds and algae instead of cheese for omega-3s. Enjoy sensible amounts of cheese as part of an overall healthy diet.
The Bottom Line
Cheese provides tiny amounts of the plant-based omega-3 ALA, but minimal EPA and DHA. You would need to eat very large amounts of cheese to meet omega-3 recommendations, which isn’t advisable.
For good health, get 250–500 mg per day of omega-3s from fatty fish, oils, seeds, nuts and algae. Enjoy cheese in moderation along with other nutritious whole foods.