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Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Something is fishy!

Turn on the news, open a magazine or surf the Web and you will find a new “miracle” supplement that makes outrageous claims promoting health and wellness. As a consumer, it is hard to separate fact from fiction and, according to the Nutrition Business Journal, we spend more than $23 billion per year searching for nutritional nirvana.

However, there is some magic waiting and it is as close as your grocery store.

Omega 3 fatty acids are essential fats needed for a variety of important physiological functions. Your body needs this indispensable fat for cell membranes and for normal brain function and vision. In the current American diet, we consume little of this type of fat and our fat intake is dominated by animal fats, trans fats in baked goods and Omega 3 fatty acid’s cousin, Omega 6 fatty acids.

Unfortunately, we consume about 10 times more Omega 6 fats than Omega 3. Ideally, these fats should be balanced, as both are important for the prevention of heart disease. Although the optimal ratio of these two heart-healthy fats is unknown, choosing more Omega 3 food sources makes good nutritional sense. The best sources of Omega 3 fatty acids include cold-water fish such as salmon, albacore tuna, cod and dover sole. The table below gives some common food sources.

Omega 3 fatty acids in selected foods
FoodAmount of Total Omega 3s
Salmon, 4 oz1.7 g
Sardines, 4 oz1.8 g
Cod, 4 oz.6 oz
Tuna.3 g
Scallops.5 g
Omega 3 fortified egg.1 g
*Flax cereal, ¾ C1.0 g
*Walnuts, 1 oz2.6 g
*Keep in mind, the most beneficial form of Omega 3’s is found in cold-water fish.

The most important Omega 3 fatty acids are those in fish and are known best by their nicknames, EPA and DHA.  If fish is not your favorite, you can get some Omega 3s from flaxseed and some nuts. If those are not on your list of favorite foods, fish oil supplements would be a good choice.

So what’s the scientific evidence supporting an increased need for the Omega 3 heroes?  Increasing Omega 3 fatty acids can reduce all causes of mortality from coronary heart disease. These fats can stabilize heart rhythm, decrease risk of sudden death and heart attack and have a small positive impact on blood pressure.

Omega 3 fatty acids also can reduce triglycerides, a blood fat linked with Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Since heart disease is still a major cause of mortality in the United States, increasing your consumption of fish can be a valuable weapon in the battle against heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends that consuming two fatty fish meals per week is an important part of your heart-healthy diet. Side effects of fish oil supplements usually are mild and might include nausea and indigestion.  However, if the dose is high, usually greater than 4 grams, blood clotting may become a problem.  Therefore, always check with your primary care doctor and do not use high-dose Omega 3 fatty acids without your physician's approval if you are taking blood thinners or high-dose aspirin.

Supplements may be a better choice for women planning on becoming pregnant, as fish can contain mercury. If you take a blood thinner or anti-inflammatory medication, always check with your doctor, as high-dose Omega 3 fatty acids can increase the likelihood of bleeding. Keep in mind that great nutrition and disease prevention begin with your plate, and fish is a great source of lean protein and heart-healthy fat!