In the United States, intake of n-3 fatty acids is approximately 1.6 g/d ( approximately 0.7% of energy), of which 1.4 g is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA; 18:3) and 0.1-0.2 g is eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA; 20:5) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA; 22:6).

The primary sources of ALA are vegetable oils, principally soybean and canola. The predominant sources of EPA and DHA are fish and fish oils. Intake data indicate that the ratio of n-6 to n-3 fatty acids is approximately 9.8:1. Food disappearance data between 1985 and 1994 indicate that the ratio of n-6 to n-3 fatty acids has decreased from 12.4:1 to 10.6:1. This reflects a change in the profile of vegetable oils consumed and, in particular, an approximate 5.5-fold increase in canola oil use.

The ratio of n-6 to n-3 fatty acids is still much higher than that recommended (ie, 2.3:1). Lower ratios increase endogenous conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA. Attaining the proposed recommended combined EPA and DHA intake of 0.65 g/d will require an approximately 4-fold increase in fish consumption in the United States.

Alternative strategies, such as food enrichment and the use of biotechnology to manipulate the EPA and DHA as well as ALA contents of the food supply, will become increasingly important in increasing n-3 fatty acid intake in the US population.

PMID: 10617969