Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Omega-3s and Your Heart

Since today is Valentine's Day, I think it's important to talk about what today is all about--your heart. We associate Valentine's Day with a heart full of love, but a healthy heart is just as important!

Health studies have established that eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids can improve heart and overall health. Omega-3s are essential nutrients, meaning our bodies require them, but cannot produce them; so we must consume foods containing them as part of a balanced diet.

Omega-3s consist of three different fatty acids: ALA, EPA and DHA. ALA is found in plant foods such as canola oil, flax and walnuts. But the most established health benefits associated with omega-3s come from EPA and DHA, which are found in fish and algae.

People who eat fish regularly enjoy significant heart-health benefits thanks to the naturally occurring EPA and DHA. Thus, the American Heart Association recommends consuming two 4-ounce portions per week. Here are some heart-health facts about fish:
  • Eating fish regularly can reduce the risk of developing heart (cardiovascular) disease. 
  • Omega-3s in fish help maintain healthy blood cholesterol levels by reducing triglycerides and raising amounts of HDL (“good” cholesterol). 
  • Eating fish several times per week can reduce inflammation throughout the body, including blood vessels. Inflammation of blood vessels is believed to contribute to plaque build-up and blood clots, which can lead to heart attack. 
  • The omega-3s in fish can help the heart maintain a slower and more regular rate, and reduce the occurrence of irregular heartbeat known as arrhythmia. 
  • People who eat fish regularly tend to have consistently lower blood pressure than those who do not. 
  • Although it is important for blood to be able to clot to repair damage to the body, clotting within the arteries can lead to a heart attack or stroke. The omega-3s in fish help blood flow more smoothly without clotting in the arteries. 
  • In addition to supporting excellent heart health, eating omega-3-rich fish regularly may also help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, depression, stroke and some types of cancer. It is also thought to boost immunity and provide relief from joint pain and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. 
Eating fish and seafood two to three times per week can provide the necessary amounts of EPA and DHA to reap the heart—and general—health benefits associated with omega-3s. Incorporate fish and seafood into your regular menus for delicious new flavors and better heart health.

Although all types of fish and seafood are lean sources of protein, making them a healthy protein choice, not all fish contain high levels of omega-3s. When trying to increase the amount of omega-3s in your diet, make sure to choose salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, sardines, herring or halibut.

Not a fish-lover yet? To help your taste buds acclimate to the flavor, start with "lighter" tasting fish such as tilapia. Keep trying new recipes with different cooking methods and flavors. Remember, you must try a new food several times to begin to develop a taste for it. Don't give up! Your heart will thank you. If you just can't stomach it or are vegan, talk with your doctor or dietitian about supplement options.

Guess what's next?! Fish recipes, of course. Next I'll share one of my favorite lunches. It includes heart-healthy salmon and is so simple to throw together!

Adapted with permission from Oldways Nutrition Exchange.

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Salmon Photo: