Dietitians Dish: Omega-3 fatty acids very good for you

April 4, 2011 at midnight
Updated April 4, 2011 at 11:05 p.m.

Lisa Hagan

Lisa Hagan

By Lisa Hagan RD, LD

Omega-3 fatty acids are associated with their health benefits. Some of these benefits include decreased triglyceride levels, slower growth of plaque build-up in the arteries, potentially lower blood pressure and decreased inflammation.

So, what is omega-3? Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats. There are three types of omega-3 that are known for their health benefits. These are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

Many studies suggest that consuming a diet high in EPA and DHA can benefit heart health. Both are marine derived omega-3 fatty acids. They are highest in fatty, cold-water fish or oily fish. Some varieties include salmon, halibut, sardines, lake trout and cod.

The American Heart Association recommends that healthy individuals should eat at least two servings of fish a week. Those with heart disease should eat two to three servings of oily fish.

Prepare the fish by baking, broiling or grilling for added health benefits.

Choosing the food over a supplement is preferred. However, reaching this goal may be difficult for some because of an aversion to the taste of fish. Those with documented heart disease should discuss possible supplements with a physician.

For those who are not able to tolerate oily fish or are vegetarian, alpha-linolenic acid can afford health benefits, as well. These foods include flaxseed, canola or soybean oils, flaxseeds, English walnuts and leeks.

Flaxseeds are the best plant-derived omega-3. However, they are sensitive to the heat and light and should be stored in an opaque container in the refrigerator. Flaxseeds can be ground and sprinkled over cereals, salads or other foods.

There are some precautions. Just like with any nutrient taken in excess, taking large doses of fish oils, usually in the form of supplements, can have an adverse effect. Some studies showed that high intake of fish oils can cause excessive bleeding, high blood sugars and abdominal discomfort.

Also, supplements are not registered by the Food and Drug Administration before they are on the market.

Choosing a reputable company that labels the source of the fish oil is recommended. Some fish high in omega-3 may have elevated levels of environmental contaminants.

There is concern regarding some fish containing high levels of mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls and other environmental contaminants. These contaminates are usually found in larger, older or predatory fish.

Pregnant or lactating women and children should limit their consumption of fish to no more than 12 ounce servings a week. Only low mercury varieties, such as salmon, cod, sardines or canned light tuna, is recommend. They should avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish.

When fishing, the local and state authorities should be contacted for information on watersheds that may be contaminated or if there is a fish in question.

Linda Hagan is a registered and licensed dietitian. Send questions or comments to



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