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Women's Health

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Good Fat, Bad Fat: The Facts About Omega-3

Think all dietary fat is the same? Guess again

How to Get What You Need

Omega-3 fatty acids are not one single nutrient, but a collection of several, including eicosapentaenic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). Both are found in greatest abundance in coldwater fish -- and that, say experts, is one reason so many of us are deficient.

Over the past several years, the Food and Drug Administration and other groups have issued warnings about mercury and other harmful chemicals found in fish. This has led many people to stop eating fish -- a big mistake, Tansman says.

"People have taken the whole FDA advisory out of context including who it's for, which is primarily pregnant women, and small children," she says. Moreover, Tansman says, even if you obey the FDA warnings in the strictest sense, the latest advisory says that up to 12 ounces of a variety of fish each week is safe for everyone. That amount, Tansman reminds us, is roughly half of what we need to get enough omega-3s.

"The recommendation [for omega-3s] is two servings of fish a week," Tansman says. "At 3 to 4 ounces per serving, that's well below the FDA's safe limit of 12 ounces per week."

According to the American Heart Association, those looking to protect their hearts should eat a variety of types of fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel) at least twice a week. Those with heart disease should get 1 gram of omega-3s (containing both EPA and DHA) per day, preferably from fatty fish. About 1.5 ounces of fish contains 1 gram of omega-3s.

But even if you don't like fish (or choose not to eat it), you can still get what you need from dietary sources. WebMD Weight Loss Clinic "Recipe Doctor" Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, says one answer lies in plants rich in omega-3s -- particularly flaxseed.

"It's safe to say this is the most potent plant source of omega-3," says Magee, author of The Flax Cookbook. While flaxseed contains no EPA or DHA, Magee says, it's a rich source of another omega-3 known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which the body can use to make EPA and DHA.

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