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

Think all dietary fat is the same? Guess again

Supplements vs. Foods

If you're thinking that maybe the easiest and most low-cal way to get omega-3s is with fish oil capsules, not so fast. Many nutritionists say it's a bad idea.

"There is something about whole food that when it goes into the body it's more than 90% absorbed, while [with] a supplement you absorb only about 50%," says Sandon.

Moreover, says Sandon, because the components of different foods work together, they may offer a more complete and balanced source of nutrients.

"It could be something more than just the omega-3s in fish that make it so healthy," says Sandon. "It could be the amino acids that provide benefits we are not going to see in fish-oil supplements alone."

And if you're thinking fish-oil capsules will help you avoid the contamination risks of fresh fish, think again. Because supplements are not regulated in the U.S., Sandon says, some may contain concentrated amounts of the same toxins found in fresh fish. And because the oil is so concentrated, the supplements can also produce an unpleasant body odor.

More important, experts say, there is a danger of overdosing on fish-oil supplements, particularly if you take more than the recommended amount. Doing so can increase your risk of bleeding or bruising. This isn't likely to happen when you get your intake from foods.

The one-time fish oil supplements can really help is if you need to reduce your levels of triglycerides, a dangerous blood fat linked to heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends that people with extremely high triglycerides get 2 to 4 daily grams of omega-3s (containing EPA and DHA) in capsules -- but only in consultation with their doctors.

"The key here is to never take these supplements without your doctor's consent," says Magee. "This is not something you want to fool with on your own."

Heart Healthy Omega-3 Recipes

While adding fish to your diet is an important way to ensure you get enough omega-3s, Magee offers these two recipes to help get you started using flaxseed as well.

Each portion offers 1 gram, a day's supply, of omega-3 fatty acids. Keep in mind that you don't have to get a daily supply of omega-3s, as long as you maintain a weekly intake of 6 grams to 8 grams, your body will have what it needs.

No-Bake Peanut Butter Power Bars

Journal as: 1 1/2 cereal bar or 1/4 cup granola cereal + 2 teaspoons peanut butter

From The Flax Cookbook by Elaine Magee, MPH, RD (Marlowe & Co.)

Canola cooking spray
1 tablespoon butter or canola margarine
1/3 cup reduced-fat smooth peanut butter
2 cups miniature marshmallows, lightly packed
1 cup low-fat granola
1 cup Rice Krispies cereal (or other puffed rice cereal)
1/3 cup ground golden flaxseed (golden flax works better in this recipe)

  • Coat an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with canola cooking spray. Put the butter, peanut butter, and marshmallows into a medium-sized microwave safe bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds, or until mixture is just melted. Stir to blend.
  • Microwave again briefly if the mixture isn't melted or smooth. Then stir in granola, puffed rice and flaxseed.
  • Spread the mixture in the prepared pan, flattening it evenly with a sheet of waxed paper. Let it cool completely before cutting into 8 equal-sized bars.

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