The power of fish

What are omega-3 fatty acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of fat that the body cannot produce on its own. They are an essential fat, which means they are needed for survival. We get the omega-3s we need from the foods we eat.

What Are the Best Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Fish is the best food source for omega-3 fatty acids. Some plants also contain omega-3 fatty acids.

What do EPA, DHA and ALA mean?

There are two types of omega-3 fatty acids in fish – eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The form of omega-3 in plants is called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

How do omega-3 fatty acids help improve my health?

Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids can improve your cardiovascular health. Most of this research is on EPA + DHA, but ALA can also help improve your health. Some of the benefits of including omega-3 fatty acids in your diet include:

  • Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular diseases.
  • Reduced risk of sudden cardiac death due to abnormal heart rhythm.
  • Reduced risk of blood clots as omega-3 fatty acids prevent platelets from clumping together.
  • Keep the lining of the arteries smooth and free from damage that can lead to thick, hard arteries. This prevents plaque from building up in the arteries.
  • Lowering levels of triglycerides by slowing down the rate they make in the liver. High levels of triglycerides in the blood increase the risk of heart disease.
  • Less inflammation. Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is believed to involve your body’s inflammatory response. Omega-3 fatty acids slow down the production of substances that are released during the inflammatory response.

Omega-3 fatty acids can also:

  • Increase the level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL / “good” cholesterol).
  • Low blood pressure. People who eat fish tend to have lower blood pressure than those who don’t.

Amount of omega-3 fatty acids in selected fish and seafood

  • mackerel
    • Serving size: 100 grams
    • Amount of omega-3 fat: 2.5-2.6 grams
  • Salmon (wild)
    • Serving size: 100 grams
    • Amount of omega-3 fat: 1.8 grams
  • herring
    • Serving size: 100 grams
    • Amount of omega-3 fat: 1.3–2 grams
  • Tuna (red reef)
    • Serving size: 100 grams
    • Amount of omega-3 fat: 1.2 grams
  • Lake trout
    • Serving size: 100 grams
    • Amount of omega-3 fat: 2 grams
  • Anchovies
    • Serving size: 100 grams
    • Amount of omega-3 fat: 1.4 grams
  • Tuna (Albacore) *
    • Serving size: 100 grams
    • Amount of omega-3 fat: 1.5 grams
  • White lake (fresh water)
    • Serving size: 100 grams
    • Amount of omega-3 fat: 1.5 grams
  • Blue fish
    • Serving size: 100 grams
    • Amount of omega-3 fat: 1.2 grams
  • Halibut
    • Serving size: 100 grams
    • Amount of omega-3 fat: 0.9 grams
  • Striped bass
    • Serving size: 100 grams
    • Amount of omega-3 fat: 0.8 grams
  • Sea bass (mixed species)
    • Serving size: 100 grams
    • Amount of omega-3 fat: 0.65 grams
  • Canned tuna, white meat
    • Serving size: 3 ounces drained
    • Amount of omega-3 fat: 0.5 grams

* Contains a lot of mercury. Limit the amount you eat.

Source: USDA Food Composition Databases

How Much Omega-3 Do I Need?

The American Heart Association recommends that patients with no history of heart disease eat at least 2 servings of fish per week (6 to 8 ounces total). This should include a wide variety of fish. Cold-water wild fish such as mackerel, tuna, salmon, sardine and herring contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Refer to the list above for information on choosing fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids.

If you have heart disease, your doctor may recommend that you take one gram of EPA + DHA every day. If you’re having trouble getting this amount through diet alone, talk to your doctor about taking a fish oil supplement.

If you have high triglyceride levels, you may need to eat more foods that are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, even if you are taking medication to lower your triglyceride levels. Your doctor may also want you to take a fish oil supplement. In general, patients with high triglyceride levels are recommended 2 to 4 grams of EPA + DHA daily. This amount has been shown to lower triglyceride levels by 25 to 35 percent.

Can You Have Too Much Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Talk to your doctor if you have 3 grams or more of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet every day. High levels of these essential fatty acids can cause bleeding.

Should I be concerned about mercury in fish?

Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and as a result of industrial pollution. It falls out of the air and can collect in streams and oceans where it is converted to methylmercury. Too much methylmercury can be harmful. This is especially true for unborn and young children.

Some fish have higher levels of mercury than others. These include shark, swordfish, tile fish and king mackerel. Everyone should limit the amount of these fish in their diet. Pregnant or breastfeeding women and young children should not eat these types of fish. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding can safely eat 12 ounces of other fish each week. This includes shellfish, canned fish and smaller fish.

Albacore tuna has more mercury than canned tuna. Limit the amount of tuna you eat to 6 ounces a week.

What if I’m allergic to fish or don’t want to eat fish?

Fish is the best dietary source of omega-3s, but some plants contain ALA. This isn’t that high in omega-3 fatty acids, but some studies show that ALA can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Good sources of ALA are ground or milled flaxseed, flaxseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts, soy foods, and canola oil. Another source of ALA is algae or algae oil, which breaks down into DHA. Many omega-3 fortified foods use algae oil. These are excellent options for vegetarians who don’t eat fish.

There are currently no serving size recommendations for foods rich in ALA. However, adding these foods to your diet regularly can help your heart health.

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