2 November 10 Supplements: Omega-3 Fats

Omega-3 fats are heart-healthy, polyunsaturated fats that are found in both plants and fish/seafood. Since most adults in the United States and other industrialized countries will suffer from heart disease, it is important to do what we can to reduce risk of this common chronic disease.

Part of a heart-healthy eating plan is choosing your fats carefully. Try to consume fats mostly from plant sources (e.g. nuts, seeds, olives, avocado, and their oils) and fish/seafood that is NOT deep-fat fried. However, the omega-3 fats that come from plants are not the same as those that come from fish. Having both in your eating plan is ideal, but the most potent effect on heart disease risk comes from eating fish/seafood sources of omega-3 fats.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that we eat naturally oily fish, such as salmon, trout, herring, tuna, and mackerel, twice a week. Worried about contaminants? Check out the Food & Drug Administration's "What you Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish".

Marine cold-water fish tend to be the best sources of omega-3 fats, specifically, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). These fats have been shown to help reduce risk of heart disease as well lower the risk of dying from a cardiac event (e.g. heart attack or stroke).

But if you prefer not to eat fish/seafood because of taste, availability or cost, you might want to consider taking a fish oil supplement.

Fish Oil Supplements

Choose a supplement that lists the amount of DHA and EPA on its label. If you have not been diagnosed with heart disease, then aim for about 500 mg of DHA+EPA daily from your supplement. That would be equivalent to eating two oily fish fillets per week.

If you have been diagnosed with heart disease, the AHA reports that 1000 mg (or about 1 gram) is the typical dose. For high blood triglycerides, 2000 – 4000 mg (about 2 – 4 grams) is the typical dose. However, please check with your physician before starting a fish oil supplement, especially if you already take prescription medication. High doses of fish oil (e.g. 3000 mg or more) could be dangerous in combination with a blood thinner.

What About Flaxseed and Walnuts?

Flaxseed, walnuts, soybean oil, and canola oil are particularly high in ALA (alpha Linolenic acid), an omega-3 fat found in plants. This is also a heart-healthy fat, but it is not a good source of DHA or EPA. In infants and younger people, there is some conversion of ALA to DHA and EPA in the body, but there is very little conversion in adults. Therefore, adults should not count on flax to provide any significant source of DHA or EPA.

Vegetarian DHA Supplements

For those of you who are vegetarian or allergic to fish/seafood, a vegetarian DHA supplement might be a good choice for you. These supplements contain algae-based sources of DHA. You can follow the same dose recommendation as for fish oil supplements.
Katherine Isacks, MPS, RD
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