While research on the wide-ranging health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids is still in its early stages, we do know that these fats are good for your heart. Most Americans eat a diet too heavy in omega-6 fatty acids and low in omega-3s, resulting in a ratio of the two that is about 20 times what researchers estimate it should be for optimal health.
Here are some easy steps to get that ratio under control, from Dr. Artemis Simopoulos, the author of “The Omega Plan” and president of the Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health, and clinical dietitians Lisa Cimperman of University Hospitals Case Medical Center and Mary Beth Kavanagh of Case Western Reserve University.
Focus on the ratio. Don’t get caught up in the numbers, because most labels won’t tell you how much of each type of fat is in the foods you eat anyway, Cimperman says. Just try to eat less omega-6 fat and more of the heart-healthy omega-3s.
Change the oils you eat. Don’t use corn, cottonseed, safflower, sunflower and soybean oils. Simopoulos recommends a blend of half canola and half olive oil to save a little money. Cimperman and Kavanagh say flax oil is another good choice.
Another trick: If you eat butter, take it out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature, then mix it half and half with canola oil and refrigerate. “You automatically improve the [omega] composition of your butter,” says Simopoulos.
Eat fish two or three times a week. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on salmon; canned sardines pack 1,800 mg of omega-3s into 2.8 ounces, and tuna and herring are also good sources.
Eat a lot of green leafy vegetables. They have alpha-linolenic acid, the type of omega-3 you get from terrestrial, or earth food, sources. Lettuce, mustard greens, watercress and arugula are good sources. Simopoulos suggests you steam them and use olive oil and lemon juice to give them some flavor.
Replace your eggs. Omega-3-enriched eggs come closer to that healthy balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids by feeding chickens either fish meal or flaxseed (both good sources of omega-3) rather than grain (which only has omega-6). Those eggs will not raise your blood pressure or cholesterol, Simopoulos says. This is the only “fortified” product the experts recommend.
Add some flax and walnuts. One-quarter cup of flaxseed contains about seven grams of omega-3 fatty acids, and the same portion of walnuts contains about 2.3 grams.
Take a pill. If you can’t stomach fish, the best option is to take fish-oil supplements, all three experts said. Look for a label that says you’re getting 750-1,000 milligrams of EPA+DHA (two types of omega-3 fatty acids) because studies have shown this is the most beneficial amount, Cimperman says. If your doctor recommends fish oil, make sure to ask how much he wants you to take.
Invest well. If you’re on a limited budget (and who isn’t right now?), put your money toward foods that pack the most omega-3 per penny. You’re better off eating 6 ounces of cooked salmon (3,650 mg EPA + DHA) or trout (1,670 mg) than a tablespoon of fortified buttery spread (160 mg) or 6 ounces of fortified yogurt (30 mg).