Omega-3 fatty acids – This fat is where it’s at

One of the most important heart healthy nutrients in your diet is the long chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), both derived from eating fish.

Another important heart healthy omega-3 fatty acid is ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) which is found in some vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and some leafy greens. ALA is converted to the longer chain EPA and DHA in the body.

However, the process is slow and inefficient therefore most nutritional experts agree that increasing the dietary intake of EPA and DHA from “fatty fish” such as mackerel, sardines and salmon, or from a high-quality fish oil dietary supplement, is the better choice. ALAs are derived from walnuts, flax-seed and canola oil.

Omega-3 fatty acids have long been known to support cellular membrane integrity. However, it was not until the 1970s when Danish researchers noted the lowered incidence of high blood cholesterol and triglycerides in Inuit people living in Greenland and consuming large quantities of fatty fish.

The researchers also noted that the Inuit not only had lower cholesterol and triglyceride readings but they also speculated that the high omega-3 fatty acids in the diet affected membrane fluidity and reduced the propensity of blood to clot, both factors leading to improved heart health.

People with heart disease are advised to take 1 gram (1000 mg) of a combination of DHA and EPA daily.

This is, of course, with your doctor’s knowledge and advice. It is important to consult your doctor, because omega-3s reduce the propensity of blood to clot and if you are taking an anticoagulant such as warfarin, or you’re taking anti-inflammatory, you must be carefully monitored by your physician.

Some other health conditions also improve by ensuring the levels of omega-3 fatty acids are adequate. EPA and DHA can curb stiffness in joints and can boost the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs.

Some researchers have found a link between depression and lack of omega-3s in the diet, while others have noted that omega-3 fatty acids help the effectiveness of antidepressants and may help moderate the depressive symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Omega-3 fatty acids are imperative for proper visual and neurological development in infants. You likely have heard, “Eat your fish, it will make you smarter,” or some such phrase as a child. Good reason to give your children a quality fish oil supplement just like your mom did.

Some research has shown that a diet rich in omega-3s can help lower the inflammation in asthma and improve lung function. This research may allow for a reduction in medication by supplementing with fish oil. There is also research showing that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the symptoms of ADHD (attention deficiency and hyperactivity disorder ) and therefore assist in learning and memory skills.

As well, there is ongoing research into the use of omega-3 fatty acids as a protective tool in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Most nutritional experts advise that fatty fish should be included in the diet at least three times a week. Some great sources of omega-3s include: anchovies, bluefish, lake trout and tuna as well as the aforementioned salmon, mackerel and sardines.

Wild salmon is higher in omega-3s than farmed salmon and it also will not be loaded with antibiotics or have been raised in heavily polluted water.

You should also think about eating smaller fish rather than larger ones as the tuna, shark, tile fish, swordfish and mackerel. Larger fish will have higher concentrations of mercury, PCBs and other pollutants. Children and pregnant women should have no more than 7 ounces of these types of fish or farm raised fish per week.

It is important to keep the proportion of fats in your diet low. No more than 30 percent of your calories should come from fat. However, those fats should be as much as possible the omega-3 fatty acids which are shown to provide many positive health benefits.

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Dr. Jane Riley, Ed.D., is a certified personal fitness trainer, nutritional adviser and behavior change specialist. She can be reached at janerileyfitness@gmail.com, 212-8119 cell/text and www.janerileyfitness.com.

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