Omega-3 Fatty Acids--New CAST Special Publication

May 8, 2018

(Press Release: May 8, 2019...Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, Ames, Iowa)

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids have received a great deal of research attention in the past decade as a nutritional food supplement because of their many demonstrated and putative benefits for human health. These dietary constituents have a major influence on human growth, developmental function, and disease risk. Since omega-3 fatty acids are not a single dietary entity, this family of metabolically related compounds does not necessarily have the same biological functions or interchangeability. As a result, it is important to understand how each family member is metabolically related to one another and the biological consequences of each when consumed.

Led by Task Force Chair Donald C. Beitz, the authors of this special publication focused their attention on the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, food sources, and dietary recommendations. A plethora of clinical and epidemiological evidence relates to the beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids. Growing evidence is emerging that these dietary constituents have the potential to play a significant role in the treatment of a wide range of health issues. With this increasing demand, new techniques in food production and manufacturing have enabled the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids (usually as fish oil) to be found in nonfish food products.

This special publication addresses the subject by examining these key topics:

  • define and provide a clear description of this unique family of bioactive nutrients and how they are interrelated
  • indicate what foods are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids
  • designate the amount needed to realize potential health-promoting benefits
  • summarize the health benefits of consuming these compounds
  • describe how food production and processing can be and are being altered to increase omega-3 fatty acid content 
  • understand the guidelines governing food labeling as well as nutrient and health claims related to omega-3 fatty acids, and what these statements mean

Due to the increased interest in the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, agricultural and manufacturing practices are becoming available to increase concentrations of these nutrients in common animal- and plant-derived foods. This publication not only includes the biochemistry of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, it also encompasses potential health effects, dietary sources, recommended intakes, and federal regulations regarding health and nutrient claims—so readers can make informed decisions regarding how they can better incorporate these nutrients in promoting a healthier lifestyle.

This CAST Special Publication (SP 32) and its companion Ag quickCAST are available online at the CAST website, along with many of CAST’s other scientific publications. CAST Issue Papers, Commentaries, and Ag quickCASTs are FREE.


Donald Beitz-Phone: 515-294-5626; Email: 

Kent Schescke-Phone: 515-292-2125, ext. 231; Email: 

Task Force Authors:

Donald C. Beitz (Chair), Iowa State University

William J. Banz, Southern Illinois University

Tom Brenna, Cornell University and The University of Texas at Austin

Philip C. Calder, University of Southampton