Omega-3: Power Nutrient
BY: Stacey Colino
There’s something fishy going on. Omega-3 fatty acids, once found primarily in fatty fish, are being added to all sorts of foods, including fruit juices, soy milk, eggs, nutrition bars, cereal, yogurt -- even infant formula. In fact, they’ve become the wonder nutrient du jour, largely because researchers are discovering more and more health benefits associated with them.
Health Benefits from Head to Toe
Long known for their heart-protective powers, omega-3 fatty acids lower blood pressure, reduce triglyceride levels, decrease the buildup of artery-clogging plaque and lower the risk of heart arrhythmia. In addition, researchers are now finding that omega-3s may be helpful in a wide range of conditions including acne, age-related cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, depression, diabetes, macular degeneration (a leading cause of blindness), Parkinson’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
How to Get Your Omega-3s
There are a few different types of omega-3 fatty acids, but the real powerhouses are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that most people eat fish, particularly fatty fish, at least twice per week. The best choices: fatty cold-water fish, such as salmon, tuna, herring, lake trout, sardines, mackerel and anchovies. The AHA also recommends that people who have heart disease consume about one gram of EPA and DHA per day, possibly in supplement form. Those who need to lower their triglycerides are advised to ingest two to four grams of EPA and DHA per day from capsules.
But some experts go beyond the AHA recommendation, believing that even more people should be taking these supplements. “Those who consume less than the equivalent of two to three fish meals per week and no other sources of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as omega-3 eggs, should consider supplements,” says J. Thomas Brenna, a professor of human nutrition at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. And if you’re worried about contaminants associated with fish, you’ll be happy to hear that omega-3 supplements have been found to be free of heavy metals that have been a concern with fish.So eat more fish and consider omega-3-fortified foods and supplements. Says Barry Swanson, a fellow of the Institute of Food Technologists and professor of food science at Washington State University in Pullman: It doesn’t matter how you get your omega-3s -- “as long as you get these nutrients in your body, it’s better than not consuming them at all.”
Stacey Colino has written for The Washington Post's health section and many national magazines, including Newsweek, Woman's Day, SELF, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Parenting, Sports Illustrated and Ladies' Home Journal. Stacey is a frequent contributor to Live Right Live Well.