The Skinny on Fats (continued)
The Good Fats
In the past decade, research has repeatedly shown that the healthy fats in fish, olives, nuts, seeds, and avocados deliver potent disease-fighting nutrients. Much of the research has looked at fish consumption or fish oil supplementation, and the findings have been so encouraging that the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association now recommend that most people eat fish two or three times a week (best choices include salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, albacore tuna, and rainbow trout). If you have elevated triglycerides, or if you have established cardiovascular disease, you may benefit from going one step further. Talk to your doctor about supplementing with fish oil capsules.
Fish contains two types of omega-3 fats (EPA and DHA) that have shown, among other health benefits, clear cardiovascular improvements that help prevent heart attacks and strokes. Another type of omega-3 fat (ALA) is found in flaxseed, walnuts, canola oil, soybeans, and dark, leafy greens. A small amount of ALA is converted into EPA and DHA, and it also appears to have impressive cardiovascular benefits of its own.
A Problem of Proportion
Many experts today feel that at least some of our diet-related health problems stem from an imbalance in our intake of omega-6 and omega-3 fats. We get omega-6 fats primarily from vegetable oils, and omega-3 fats mostly from fish. It has been estimated that early humans consumed these two types of fats in a ratio of 1 to 1. Today, that ratio is almost 10 to 1 in the typical American diet, with our consumption of vegetable oils far outweighing our consumption of fish oils. To improve your ratio and your health, follow these bottom line tips:
- Eat a variety of (non-fried) fatty fish and seafood two or three times a week. (If you don't like fish, talk to your doctor about supplementing with fish oil capsules and also look for foods enriched with omega-3, such as eggs and margarines.)
- Eat a greater variety of plant foods, including nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and soy foods.
- Add ground flaxseed or flaxseed oil, walnuts, and dark, leafy greens to your weekly repertoire.
- Limit your consumption of "junk" and processed foods (which almost always contain vegetable oil).
Reviewed by Susan Weiner, R.D., M.S., C.D.E., C.D.N. 3/08
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