The Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Christine Miller Health Guide
  • Like many people, I have been looking for ways to help manage my arthritis naturally through diet and exercise (in addition to medication). I also attempt to manage my weight, to lose my extra pounds, both to wear the clothes that have been hanging forlornly in my closet and to help reduce the added stress on my joints.

    One dietary recommendation that has been getting more and more media attention is to include more omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids into the diet. There have been quite a few studies related to omega-3 fatty acids showing evidence that there is an association between consuming these fatty acids and reduced inflammation from arthritis and cardiovascular disease.
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    Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in a limited number of both plant-based sources and in fish and shellfish. Plant sources contain α-linolenic acid and include soybean oil, canola oil, walnuts and flaxseed, including flaxseed oil. Fish and shellfish contain two types of omega-3 fatty acids, Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Cold-water fish that naturally contain more oil such as salmon; trout and herring contain higher amounts of these acids. Fish oil supplements are also popular and have been the focus of much research, but it is important to eat foods containing omega-3’s using the supplements as just that--a supplement to the healthy diet. The USDA recommends keeping total fat intake between 20 to 35 percent of calories, with most fats coming from sources of monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated (omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids) such as fish, nuts and vegetable oils. Eating two or three meals a week that are high in omega-3’s may help limit the inflammation from arthritis and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

    It is important to note that there are also Federal and State advisories as well as scientific research related to environmental contaminants, such as mercury, in fish and shellfish. Some fish, such as tuna, contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or a young child’s developing nervous system. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advise certain people, such as pregnant women, nursing mothers and small children to avoid some types of fish and shellfish. For more information, call the FDA’s food information line toll-free at 1-888-SAFEFOOD or visit http://www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/mercury/backgrounder.html.

    There are also environmental concerns related to fishing practices, over-fishing, and the environmental effects on some types of fish. Readers may want to consider researching types of fish that various environmental groups deem safe to eat and those that should be avoided.

    Here are five ways to include more omega-3’s in your diet.
  • Eat a 4oz serving of any of the following fish and shellfish: salmon, herring, mackerel, fresh tuna, sardines, mussels, oysters, clams, trout, bass, shrimp or canned white tuna.
  • Incorporate walnuts into your salads or soups or have a few as an afternoon snack.
  • Incorporate tofu and/or edamame (soybeans) into your meals instead of meat. Edamame can be found either in the pod (which is tasty when cooked and lightly salted) or shelled and frozen. Very versatile, it can be quickly boiled and added to salads, stirfry, soups, pasta, rice and cooked vegetable dishes. Tofu is also versatile and is especially tasty in stirfry and smoothies.
  • Eat more of the following vegetables: leafy dark greens such as spinach, kale, cabbage and brussel sprouts; winter squash, cauliflower, broccoli and green beans.
  • Incorporate flaxseed and flaxseed oil into your diet. Here are ways to do that: (1) I like to bake bread, especially a seed bread that calls for sunflower seeds, flaxseeds and poppyseeds. Flaxseed meal can also substitute for some of the flour in recipes. (2) Mix atablespoon of ground flaxseed into different dishes, such as hot and cold cereals, smoothies, soups and salads. (3) Use flaxseed oil instead of vegetable oil for salad dressings, roasting vegetables, tossed into pasta, or use as a substitute for half of the oil or butter in baking recipes.

    More Information
    USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005
    USDA Food Pyramid information
Published On: May 02, 2006