For my mental and physical health, I’ve been trying to get more omega-3 fatty acids in my diet.
It’s all about reducing out-of-control inflammation in the body which research suggests may be a risk factor for the development of many chronic diseases and conditions such as heart disease and some types of cancer.
According to Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD, and author of The Ultimate Omega-3 Diet, one of the most effective ways to control inflammation in the body is by tipping the balance toward more omega-3 fats (which block inflammation) and fewer omega-6 fats (which promote inflammation) in body tissues. Tribole says this can be accomplished by getting more omega-3 fats and fewer omega-6 fats in the diet (see food sources of each, below).
To get adequate omega-3 fats, the American Heart Association and the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommend at least two fish/seafood meals per week. One of the richest sources of omega-3s is salmon—which I love—but I was concerned about seafood sustainability issues and also the mercury content of certain fish.
Information in the April 2012 issue of Eating Well magazine put my concerns in perspective.
According to the article, “Swimming Upstream,” the population of wild Alaskan salmon has recently boomed due to Alaska’s seafood sustainable management practices. (Monterey Bay’s 2012 Seafood Watch recommends choosing wild salmon over farmed.)
And according to nutrition editor Brierly Wright, MS, RD, research shows eating ocean fish that contain more selenium than mercury protects against mercury toxicity. Certain ocean fish such as halibut and salmon, and shellfish such as lobster and crab, are rich in selenium. This finding supports previous research concluding that the benefits of eating seafood outweigh any risks of mercury exposure. However, it’s still recommended that people, especially children and women who are pregnant or nursing, avoid seafood high in mercury such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish.
Bottom line: Eat more fish, following recommendations from the Seafood Watch.
“Scientific truth may be put quite briefly; eat moderately, having an ordinary mixed diet, and don’t worry.” – Sir Robert Hutchison, Newcastle Medical Journal (1932)
How do you balance the omega-6 and omega-3 fats in your body? By eating fewer food sources of omega-6 fats and more food sources of each type of omega-3 fats: EPA, DHA and ALA, says Tribole.
• Eat more fish (at least two fish meals per week)
• Take a fish oil supplement with a combined DHA and EPA dose of 650 mg (especially if you don’t eat fish)
• Choose a mix of olive and canola oils for cooking
• Follow a Mediterranean-style diet
Foods high in omega-6 fats: cottonseed, sunflower, safflower, soybean and corn oils and any foods containing these oils such as margarine, mayonnaise and salad dressings
Foods high in omega-3 fats:
• EPA & DHA: fatty fish from cold waters such as salmon, herring, anchovies, sardines, mackerel, Atlantic bluefish, light tuna, most shellfish, and fish oil or algae supplements containing both DHA and EPA
• ALA: leafy greens, whole grains, walnuts, seaweed, beans and legumes, chia seeds, flaxseed, hemp, canola oil, omega-3 enriched products