Blog posts tagged with 'fats'

by Michael Ozner, M.D., FACC, FAHA

With cardiovascular disease (CVD) the leading cause of death in both men and women in the United States, it’s important that everyone understand their risk factors for heart attack and stroke. One easy way to combat your risk is to increase consumption of omega-3s—fatty acids that have been shown to support a healthy heart throughout life.

Omega-3 refers to a family of fats that the body can’t produce on its own—they have to be consumed. Although there are plant sources of omega-3s (e.g. flaxseed, walnuts), the optimal source is fish, especially cold-water fish that are rich in omega-3s (e.g. salmon, tuna, sardines). People often don’t know the difference between omega-3s and fish oil, and doctors sometimes use the two terms interchangeably. Fish oil, or fish oil products, are simply supplements that contain omega-3 fatty acids. These fats—particularly the two named EPA and DHA—are important because our bodies need them for optimal health. Omega-3 supplements are used when people are unable to maintain normal omega-3 levels in their bodies despite, or in place of, fish consumption.

Research on omega-3s and heart health is extensive, and the majority of clinical trials have demonstrated an improvement in heart health with regular fish or fish oil consumption. The prestigious medical journal, The New England Journal of Medicine, had a review article in 2011 highlighting the importance of omega-3s for cardiovascular health. The mechanisms of action of omega-3 fats discussed in this article that can potentially improve cardiovascular heath include:

  • Lowering triglycerides
  • Addressing inflammation
  • Promoting healthy blood pressure
  • Supporting a healthy resting heart rate
  • Maintaining healthy insulin
  • Supporting normal endothelial function
  • Addressing atherosclerotic plaque

The American Heart Association recommendation for omega-3 intake is to eat (preferably oily omega-3 rich) fish at least twice a week for healthy individuals, if approved by their physician. For those with a history of coronary heart disease or elevated triglycerides, the intake of fish or fish oil supplements is greater, and should be considered in consultation with their physician.

The bottom line is: take your heart health seriously. Don’t wait until you’re in trouble to make necessary changes in diet, exercise, and stress reduction. Avoid cigarette smoking. See your personal treating physician to assess your heart disease risk factors and develop a prevention strategy to stay healthy. Regarding omega-3 fat, measure your omega-3 level at the time of your routine blood tests—if you are deficient in omega-3s, discuss corrective measures with your physician.

[article reposted with permission from developinghealthyhabits.com]

By Nick Noloboff

Even though humans are at the very top of the food chain, there’s no escaping the risks of this interconnected hierarchy. In fact, there’s a kind of natural justice in being vulnerable to the life led by your food. All the elements that were consumed by the animal you’re now eating—nutrients, chemicals, minerals, etc.—have made their way to you. So it’s worth repeating just how important it is to take care of our food sources, and to make wise choices about what we eat.

One overlooked chapter in the story of our food is the role of fat. On one hand, dietary fats have played a pretty ominous part in our recent history: Heart disease. High cholesterol. Metabolic syndrome. Saturated fats proliferate in many of the foods we eat, even now that their adverse health effects are known. On the other hand, a different kind of fat, essential omega-3 fats, quietly disappeared from our diets without anyone really knowing they were there to begin with.

The short of it is that we’re eating way too much meat and foods filled with seed oils, and not enough (or not the right) fish. This imbalance has less to do with conscious food choices than it does with changes to the agriculture, livestock and seafood industries over the past 50 years. But first, let’s talk about the fish you’re not eating.

Go wild with fish

Until recently, nearly all the fish we ate was taken from the wild, where the smallest fish consume microalgae, nature’s original source of marine omega-3 fats. Larger fish eat those small fish, getting all the omega-3 fats of their prey. This process works its way up the food chain until it lands on your plate as a delicious fillet of sockeye salmon. But increasingly, you have to seek out “wild-caught” fish. The alternative is farmed fish that are raised on fishmeal which is devoid of omega-3s. Plus, wild-caught fish costs more. So people eat less wild fish, and get fewer essential omega-3 fats.

Before wild fish became pricey, meat became cheaper, as economies of scale turned pasture-raised cows into grain-fed cattle. Similar to farmed fish, these livestock get far fewer omega-3 fats than they would by eating their natural diet of grass, and much more of another essential fat, omega-6, which is found in the grain and corn diets of feedlot cattle. Add to this change in the fat composition of meats the proliferation of seed oils in just about everything else we eat—dressings, processed foods, cooking oils, you name it—and you wind up with an abundance of omega-6 and a dearth of omega-3. A big fat mess, so to speak.

It seems that the obvious answer is to eat more wild-caught fish, and greens, but that’s just half of the solution. It’s true that we all need to consume more omega-3s, but we also need to radically cut back on sources of omega-6 to balance our intake of essential fats. Here’s why: Omega-3 and omega-6 fats both reside in cell membranes where they perform a variety of functions that are vital to health. But space in cell membranes is limited, and with so much omega-6 in our bloodstreams, it has a much better chance than omega-3 of getting incorporated into cells simply because it’s more prevalent.

Supplement with Omega-3s

Until the 1970s, few people outside of Scandinavia recognized the health benefits of omega-3 fish oil. Today, over 8,000 clinical studies have documented omega-3s’ effects on health, yet Americans remain woefully undernourished in these fats. At least 90 percent of Americans are deficient, according to a 2015 report issued by the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines Committee.

Although we now know how important omega-3s are, we have a tougher and tougher time getting them into our diets. One sure way to get more is to supplement with a high-quality fish or algae oil. Both of these sources naturally contain the long-chain marine omega-3 fats that are essential for health. Supplementing also ensures a consistent daily intake, even when you eat a few healthy servings of wild-caught fish each week.

[article reposted with permission from developinghealthyhabits.com]

fish , omega-3 , fats , health , wellness