Achieve your HbA1c, blood pressure, and cholesterol targets with expert nutrition support: I want to hit my target!

The Prediabetes Nutritionist

Omega 3 fats and benefits in diabetes

How Omega-3 Fats Benefit People with Diabetes

When it comes to staying healthy, there’s one nutrient you want to pay attention to: omega-3 fats or fatty acids! These are essential fatty acids that benefit you in many ways. They protect your heart, improve brain function and can help reduce inflammation. 

In this blog post, we’ll explore the types of omega-3s and explain why they’re so great for your health. Whether you live with diabetes, are a health nut or someone who wants to care for your body, you won’t want to miss this!

– – – – – – – – – – – 

Fatty acids are long chains of carbons bonded together and flanked by hydrogens. At one end of the molecule is an acid group, and at the other is a methyl group. 

Fatty acids occurring in nature can be divided into three categories:

  • Saturated fatty acids
  • Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs)
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs)

In a saturated fatty acid, the carbon atom holds as many hydrogens as is chemically possible; it is said to be ‘saturated’ in terms of hydrogen. In an unsaturated fatty acid, one or more double bonds are present along the main carbon chain, known as ethylenic bonds. Each double bond replaces two hydrogen atoms. If there is just one bond, the acid is monounsaturated; if two or more double bonds are present, the fatty acid is polyunsaturated. 

Although our bodies can produce most of the fatty acids they need, some PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids) cannot be made and must be obtained from our food. If we don’t get these essential fatty acids from our diet, it can lead to a deficiency syndrome which can cause retarded growth, skin lesions, dermatitis in animals, and similar symptoms in humans. That’s why they are known as essential fatty acids and sometimes called “vitamin F”.

What are omega-3 fats acids? 

Omega-3 fats are one of the two essential fatty acids we need in our diet. These fats form parts of vital body structures, perform crucial roles in immune system function and vision, help form cell membranes, and produce hormones involved in practically all essential bodily functions. 

There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: 

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

ALA is a primary omega-3 fat the body gets from food and converts into longer-chain omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA. These longer-chain omega-3 fats are hormone-like substances called eicosanoids, essential for brain and nerve function. EPA is important for concentration and vision and is converted into a potent anti-inflammatory agent. DHA is especially crucial during pregnancy for fetal brain and nervous system development because of its role in brain structure.

If humans don’t consume enough essential fatty acids, they may experience flaky and itchy skin, diarrhoea, and infections. It can also restrict growth and wound healing.

Omega-3 fats and diabetes

Omega-3 fats may offer several potential health benefits for people with type 2 diabetes:

  1. Inflammation: Inflammation is a natural response of the body’s immune system to infection or injury. However, when it persists for a long time, it can contribute to the development of insulin resistance and its progression to type 2 diabetes. Omega-3s have established anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce inflammation and potentially increase insulin sensitivity to prevent or manage diabetes (Gao et al., 2017). 
  2. Cardiovascular health: Individuals with type 2 diabetes have a two-four-fold higher risk of developing heart disease (Martin-Timon, 2014). Omega-3s promote heart health by thinning blood and preventing blood platelets from clotting and sticking to blood vessels, which can reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke. They also reduce triglycerides, increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or ‘good’ cholesterol levels, and improve blood pressure (Innes and Calder, 2020). A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association discovered that consuming 3g of omega-3 fats daily, which is equivalent to 4-5 ounces of wild salmon, can decrease systolic blood pressure by an average of 4.5 mmHg in patients with high blood pressure (Zhang et al., 2022).
  3. Dental health: Periodontal disease is a condition that affects the gums and the supporting tissues of the teeth. It is caused by an inflammatory response to bacteria that accumulate on tooth surfaces and below the gum line. This can lead to the formation of deep pockets between the teeth and gums, which can harbour even more bacteria and worsen the inflammatory response. Over time, this can cause the gums to recede, the teeth to become loose, and eventually tooth loss. People with uncontrolled type 2 diabetes are at a higher risk of developing periodontal disease. This is partly because high blood sugar increases the inflammatory response to bacteria in the mouth, making it difficult for the body to resolve inflammation and heal wounds (NIDDK, 2022). However, recent studies have shown that omega-3 fats may help reduce inflammation and promote healing in diabetic patients undergoing treatment for active periodontal disease (Castro dos Santos et al., 2022). 
  4. Brain health: DHA is a major fatty acid found in the cell membranes of the brain’s grey matter. It makes up approximately 25% of the total fatty acids in the human cerebral cortex and 50% of all PUFAs in the central nervous system. Studies have shown that patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia tend to have lower levels of brain DHA, compared to those without these conditions (Katon et al., 20215). However, higher intakes of omega-3 may reduce the risk of developing these conditions (Hartnett et al., 2023; Katon et al., 2015). People with diabetes are at a 20% higher risk of developing dementia than those without diabetes. Consuming omega-3 fats could potentially lower the risk of dementia in patients with type 2 diabetes. 
  5. Skin health: High blood sugar levels can cause skin dehydration, resulting in symptoms such as itching, cracking, and peeling. These symptoms can be problematic as they can lead to skin sores, especially if the affected area is scratched frequently. If left untreated, these sores can become infected, leading to severe problems for individuals with diabetes. Fortunately, research has found that omega-3 fats, particularly those in fish oil, can improve the skin barrier, prevent dryness and itching and help wounds heal faster (Huang et al., 2018). These benefits may be helpful for individuals with diabetes who are at risk of developing skin problems.

Sources of omega-3 fats

Omega-3 fats can be found in plant- and animal-based foods, with fish being an especially rich source. However, while plants contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the human body doesn’t efficiently convert it into the long-chain EPA and DHA omega-3 fats crucial for optimal health. Studies suggest that the conversion rate is only 2-9% (Anderson and Ma, 2009). Fish, on the other hand, is rich in EPA and DHA omega-3 fats. Nonetheless, it’s still important to consume plant-based sources of omega-3 fats, as they contain other essential nutrients like fibre.

Some plant sources of omega-3 fats to include are (Lane et al., 2014):

  • Walnuts
  • Flaxseeds
  • Chia seeds 
  • Canola (rapeseed) oil
  • Soybean oil

To get a healthy dose of omega-3 fats from fish, it’s best to choose fresh or coldwater fish (NIH, 2023). Good examples are:

  • Salmon
  • Eel
  • Mackerel
  • Rainbow trout
  • Nile perch
  • Catfish
  • Red snapper
  • Tilapia
  • Pilchards
  • Sardines
  • Red mullet

How much omega-3 do you need?

Men are recommended to consume at least 1.6g of ALA daily, while women consume 1.1g (NIH, 2023). There are no established guidelines for EPA and DPA, but consuming around 450-500mg of omega-3 daily is suggested. You can achieve this by eating two portions of oily fish per week. A portion of fish is 140g or five ounces.

Tips to add omega-3s to your diet

sardines and omega-3 fats

Fatty fish: Include oil fish in your meals as they are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Grill or bake salmon, mackerel, sardines, tilapia and catfish and serve with starchy vegetables or whole grains to make a balanced meal. 

Flaxseeds: Sprinkle milled flaxseeds on yoghurt or oatmeal or blend them into smoothies. You can also use flaxseed oil in salad dressings. 

flaxseeds and omega-3 fats
chia seeds and omega-3 fats

Chia seeds: Mix chia seeds with your favourite milk to create chia seed pudding. You can also sprinkle them on oats or yoghurt or incorporate them into baked goods.

Walnuts: Snack on walnuts, chop them and sprinkle them on salads, oats or yoghurts. You can also use walnut oil in salad dressings or as an alternative to olive oil in dips like baba ghanoush or hummus.

walnuts and omega-3 fats
edamame beans and omega-3 fats

Edamame beans: Snack on steamed edamame beans, add them to stir-fries, salads or soups or incorporate them into rice dishes. 

Should you take supplements?

Fish oil supplements are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids but are not a substitute for fish in your diet. Fish provides many nutritional benefits, including essential minerals such as zinc, calcium, iodine, selenium and vitamins A and D, and adds flavour and variety to meals.

If you have cardiovascular disease and don’t get enough omega-3s from your diet, the American Heart Association recommends consulting with a doctor about using fish oil supplements, especially if you have high triglyceride levels. Healthy individuals can safely take up to 3g of EPA and DHA from fish oil supplements. For vegetarians and vegans, algal sources are available for EPA and DHA.

It is crucial to prioritise food as the primary source of omega-3s. Foods containing omega-3s offer many other nutrients, phytonutrients, and healthy fats that work together to promote heart health. Additionally, fish oil capsules or algal supplements cannot offset an unhealthy diet. 

To summarise

Omega-3 fats are an essential component of a healthy diet. They play a critical role in maintaining the health of the brain, heart, skin, teeth and hair. While certain plant-based foods provide omega-3 fats, fish are particularly rich in the longer-chain omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA, which are associated with human health. To obtain a variety of nutrients, it is important to get omega-3 from both plants and fish. For those who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet or have fish intolerance, algal supplements can be used to increase EPA and DHA intake. However, it is always important to consult with your GP before taking supplements.


  1. Gao, H., Geng, T., Huang, T., & Zhao, Q. (2017). Fish oil supplementation and insulin sensitivity: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Lipids in Health and Disease, 16.
  2. Martín-Timón, I., Sevillano-Collantes, C., & Segura-Galindo, A. (2014). Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease: Have all risk factors the same strength? World Journal of Diabetes, 5(4), 444-470.
  3. Innes, J. K., & Calder, P. C. (2020). Marine Omega-3 (N-3) Fatty Acids for Cardiovascular Health: An Update for 2020. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 21(4).
  4. NIDDK (2022) Diabetes, gum disease & other dental problems. Available: Last accessed: 26 November 2023. 
  5. Castro dos Santos, N.C., Furukawa, M. V., Oliveira-Cardoso, I., Cortelli, J. R., Feres, M., Dyke, T. V., & Rovai, E. S. (2022). Does the use of omega-3 fatty acids as an adjunct to non-surgical periodontal therapy provide additional benefits in the treatment of periodontitis? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Periodontal Research, 57(3), 435-447.
  6. Katon, W., Pedersen, H. S., Ribe, A. R., Fenger-Grøn, M., Davydow, D., Waldorff, F. B., & Vestergaard, M. (2015). Impact of Depression and Diabetes on Risk of Dementia In a National Population-Based Cohort. JAMA Psychiatry, 72(6), 612.
  7. Hartnett, K. B., Ferguson, B. J., Hecht, P. M., Schuster, L. E., Shenker, J. I., Mehr, D. R., Fritsche, K. L., Belury, M. A., Scharre, D. W., Horwitz, A. J., Kille, B. M., Sutton, B. E., Tatum, P. E., Greenlief, C. M., & Beversdorf, D. Q. (2023). Potential Neuroprotective Effects of Dietary Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Stress in Alzheimer’s Disease. Biomolecules, 13(7).
  8. Zhang, X., Ritonja, J.A., Zhou, N., Chen, B.E. & Li, X. (2022) Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids intake and blood pressure: A dose-response meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Journal of the American Heart Association, 11(11): e025071. .
  9. Huang, H., Wang, W., Yang, C., Chou, L., & Fang, Y. (2018). Cosmetic and Therapeutic Applications of Fish Oil’s Fatty Acids on the Skin. Marine Drugs, 16(8).
  10. Chatterjee, D., Chatterjee, A., Kalra, D., Kapoor, A., Vijay, S., & Jain, S. Role of adjunct use of omega 3 fatty acids in periodontal therapy of periodontitis. A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Oral Biology and Craniofacial Research, 12(1), 55-62.
  11. Andere, N. M., Araujo, C. F., Kantarci, A., Van Dyke, T. E., & Santamaria, M. P. (2020). Omega-3 PUFA and Aspirin as Adjuncts to Periodontal Debridement in Patients with Periodontitis and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Randomized Clinical Trial. Journal of Periodontology, 91(10), 1318.
  12. Anderson, B.M & Ma, D.W. (2009) Are all n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids created equal? Lipids in Health and Disease, 8(33):
  13. Lane, K., Derbyshire, E., Li, W., & Brennan, C. (2014) Bioavailability and potential uses of vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids: a review of the literature. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 54(5): 572-9. Https:// 
  14. National Institutes of Health (2023) Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Fact sheet for health professionals. Available: Last accessed: 09 December 2023

Was this post helpful?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.