3. Go Fish for Health
Fish is rich in two forms of omega-3 fatty acids, called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Growing evidence shows that these two forms are particularly important for lowering inflammation and protecting against heart disease. Indeed, some researchers now think that omega-3 levels, measured in the blood, may be a useful predictor of heart disease risk.
The American Heart Association recommends that people without documented coronary heart disease eat at least two servings per week of a variety of fish (one serving is 3.5 ounces of cooked fish). People with coronary heart disease should eat more, about one gram of EPA and DHA a day, preferably from fatty fish, according to the AHA.
4. Tap Other Sources of Omega-3s
Don’t eat fish? You can turn to other sources of omega-3s. Flaxseed oil, for example, contains about 55% omega-3 fats. Canola oil has about 10%. Soybean oil is about 7% omega-3 fats. Walnuts and leafy green vegetables are also good sources of omega-3s.
All of these foods are healthy choices, experts say. But there’s still some debate about whether they have all the benefits of fish oil. The reason: the omega-3s in flax, canola, walnuts, and other vegetable sources are in the form of alpha linoleic acid, or ALA. Although the body can convert some ALA to EPA and DHA, the two forms of omega-3 fats with proven heart protection benefits, it’s not clear how much is converted.
If you don’t eat fish at all, you may want to talk to your health care provider about taking a supplement that contains EPA and DHA.
The Debate Over Omega-6 vs Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Some researchers are convinced that the healthiest fats are omega-3s, found principally in fish. They insist that omega-6s compete with omega-3s in the body, so the ratio of these two forms of polyunsaturated fats is very important.
“The ideal ratio is one to one or two to one, omega-6 to omega-3,” says Artemis Simopolous, MD, who directs the Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health, in Washington, D.C., and is widely regarded as an expert in fatty acids. “Unfortunately, the American diet has been flooded with omega-6 fatty acids, mostly in the form of vegetable oils such as corn oil and safflower oil.”