Research suggests that consuming omega-3 fatty acids (ALA, EPA, DHA) found in fish and fish oils can protect you from coronary heart disease, may decrease insulin resistance and may reduce the risk of heart attacks, stroke, macular degeneration and certain cancers. Omega-3 supplements have been shown to improve symptoms of inflammatory diseases such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and inflammatory bowel disease. Those who consume more fish appear to have lower rates of depression, and omega-3 supplements, when used in conjunction with conventional medical therapy, may be helpful in treating bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) and schizophrenia.
The richest dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids is oily cold-water fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, and herring. Omega-3 fatty acids can also be found in nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds, canola oil, and specially fortified eggs. Taking fish oil supplements may also be helpful, but you should take them in addition to getting omega-3 fatty acids from your diet. If your diet includes fish, 2-3 servings per week is a good target level for bringing fish-based EPA and DHA into your meal plan.
Thinking about your intake? Keep these things in mind:
Oxidation of omega-3 fats limits their shelf life and their ability to provide you with the nourishment you need. Damage to the omega-3s in your food can be caused by light, oxygen, or heat. For this reason, foods that are rich in omega-3s should usually be stored in the refrigerator in a sealed container. This rule not only applies to animal foods like fish, dairy, eggs, and meat but also to plant foods like nuts and seeds.
Studies have shown that fish oil supplements may lower triglyceride levels in people with Type 2 diabetes thus lowering their risk of heart disease. However, fish oil supplements may, in some people, significantly raise the levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called “bad” cholesterol.
Kimberly Young, M.S. is a practicing Nutritionist in Dallas, Texas. Learn about her integrative and functional approach to diet and nutrition at kyoungnutrition.com