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What Are Functional Foods?

Omega-3s

What are they? Omega-3s are a "good" kind of fat found in fish like salmon, tuna, cod, sardines, anchovies, herring, and trout. They're also found, in lower amounts, in nuts and seeds like walnuts, almonds, and flax.

How do they help your heart? Eating enough omega-3s helps protect your arteries from the sticky plaque that can cause a heart attack or stroke. Omega-3s also protect against a dangerous abnormal heartbeat, and they can lower unhealthy blood fats called triglycerides.

The best heart benefits, though, come from two kinds of omega-3s found mostly in fish: DHA and EPA. Plant foods have a different type of omega-3 called ALA.

Most foods you see in the store with added omega-3s -- cereal, pasta, soy milk, yogurt, margarine, and eggs -- use ALA, which may not help your heart as much as the kind found in fish. Also, many of these foods don't have enough omega-3s, Gerbstadt says.

How much omega-3 do you need? The American Heart Association advises people to eat fish at least twice a week to get enough omega-3s. A 4-ounce serving of salmon has 2 grams of omega-3s. If you have a heart condition, ask your doctor if you need higher amounts of omega-3s.

Remember, most of the nutrients you need should come from whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, fish, and lean meat. No one knows whether fortified foods can provide all the health benefits you get from the complex mix of nutrients in whole foods. Your doctor or a dietitian can let you know what would be best for you.

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Reviewed on December 24, 2012

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