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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 continued...

Flaxseed is available in health food stores and many supermarkets, sold as whole seeds, ground seeds, or oil. Although flaxseed oil contains ALA, Magee says ground flaxseed is a much better choice because it also contains 3 grams of fiber per tablespoon, as well as healthy phytoestrogens. Other sources of omega-3s include canola oil, broccoli, cantaloupe, kidney beans, spinach, grape leaves, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, and walnuts.

"About an ounce -- or one handful -- of walnuts have about 2.5 grams of omega-3s," says Sandon. "That's equal to about 3.5 ounces of salmon."

Besides getting more omega-3s, you can also help your heart by replacing some omega-6s from cooking oils with a third fatty acid known as omega-9 (oleonic acid). This is a monounsaturated fat found primarily in olive oil.

Though it is not considered "essential" (the body can make some omega-9), by substituting it for oils rich in omega-6s, you can help restore the balance between omega-3s and omega-6s, plus gain some additional health benefits.

"Factors found in olive oil can also help boost the good cholesterol, which can also help your heart," says Magee.

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.

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