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Fish hold the power
Early Arctic explorers noted that the Eskimos, despite their consumption of high fat and high cholesterol foods, had a very low incidence of heart disease. Scientists and physicians were stumped at this and considered it a paradox; until, that is, they looked at their diets. What they found has changed the way nutrition and health care professionals prevent and treat heart disease today.
The Eskimo's diets were rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are called essential fatty acids because the human body needs them to survive but cannot make them on their own; they must be consumed in the diet. Their role in the prevention of heart disease has been extensively studied. Here's how omega-3 fatty acids may protect you from heart disease:
Cold water varieties of fish like mackerel, tuna, salmon, sardines and herring contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. In order for you to benefit from omega-3 fats, the American Heart Association recommends most healthy people (with no history of heart disease) consume 2 meals of fish every week (about 6 ounces of fish). Review the table below for good sources of omega-3.
What if you don't like fish, have an allergy to fish, or are vegetarian?
There are some plant sources that contain a precursor to omega-3 fatty acids in the body, called alpha-linolenic acid. However, alpha-linolenic acid is not converted to omega-3 fats as efficiently in the human body as that found in fish. Good plant sources of alpha-linolenic acid are flaxseeds, flax oil, canola oil, walnuts and soybean oil. Currently, there are no established serving size recommendations, but focus on adding these foods to your diet regularly, as they provide additional heart-health benefits. For example, some health professionals recommend adding 2 tablespoons of ground or milled flaxseed to your diet each day because it's also a good source of fibre and cancer-fighting lignin.
If you have heart disease, your health care professional may recommended you increase your food sources of omega-3 to reach a daily goal of 1 gram each day. If this amount is too difficult to achieve from diet alone, your health care professional may suggest a fish oil supplement. Read on to learn how to read fish oil supplement labels.
If you have elevated blood triglycerides your health care professional may also recommend you increase your food sources of omega-3. This includes people who may already be on medications used to lower triglyceride levels. If these strategies are not effective, you may be advised to incorporate fish oil supplements into your diet. To effectively lower triglycerides, 2-4 grams of omega-3 fatty acids are recommended daily.
To determine how many grams of omega-3 fats are in a capsule, look for the words "EPA" and "DHA" on the supplement label. Adding up the number of grams or milligrams (mg) of EPA and DHA will tell you how much omega-3 fat is in each capsule. For example, a 1 g capsule may contain 250 mg EPA and 250 mg DHA, which adds up to 500 mg or 0.5 g of omega-3 fat. Reaching 4 grams daily may consist of a large number of fish oil capsules, so choose ones that contain the largest amount of EPA (omega-3 fats) per capsule.
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