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Omega-3 Fatty Acids Get New Health Claim

Fish, Other Products With Omega-3 Fatty Acids to Tout Their Heart-Healthy Benefits

Fitting Fish Into a Healthy Diet

Although fish oil supplements or foods fortified with omega-3 fatty acids will be allowed to carry the qualified health claim if they meet the FDA's requirements, experts say it's usually best to go straight to the source in order to reap the most heart-healthy benefits.

"I'd rather see people eating fish than taking fish oil capsules unless they are recommended by a physician," says registered dietitian Nelda Mercer, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

"When you eat fish, you're not only adding the health benefits of the omega-3 fatty acids, but you're subtracting saturated fat by substituting fish for other food sources that are higher in saturated fat, like steak," Mercer tells WebMD.

That means that how you eat and prepare fish is also important.

"If you laden it with fat, deep-fat fry it, or add a lot of butter, then you are taking away some of the benefits because you're adding saturated fat," says Mercer.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that adults eat at least two, 2-3 ounce servings of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids per week in order to reduce the risk of heart disease.

According to the AHA, studies in people who have had a heart attack or heart disease show that getting from 0.5 to 1.8 grams of EPA and DHA per day either from eating fatty fish or taking supplements significantly reduces the risk of death from heart disease and other causes.

Fish richest in omega-3 fatty acids are fatty, large fish such as salmon and tuna. Other types of fish contain much lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

Here's a list of omega-3 fatty acid levels in the top 10 fish and shellfish eaten in the U.S, according to the AHA:

Item:Omega-3 fatty acids
(grams per 3 ounce serving)
Canned tuna (light)0.26-0.73
Shrimp0.27
Pollock0.46
Salmon (fresh, frozen)0.68-1.83
Cod0.13-0.24
Catfish0.15-0.203
Clams0.24
Flounder or sole0.43
Crabs0.34-0.40
Scallops0.17

Mercer says fish should be a healthy part of people's diets, but women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should avoid fish containing high levels of mercury, such as shark, tilefish, and swordfish.

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