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The ABCs of Omega-3s

  • Marty Baldwin

    Eat Two Servings of Fish Each Week

    It used to be that fish was the go-to way to get omega-3s. These essential fatty acids, according to solid scientific research, can improve heart health and may prevent certain types of cancers. Salmon, tuna, and other sea dwellers are loaded with them, which is why we suggest that the Rebuccis eat fish twice a week. Recently, however, numerous supermarket staples have been promoting their omega-3 credentials, so it's important to learn where these nutrients are derived from to ensure you're getting what you need.

    Experts at the American Heart Association recommend eating fish twice per week. Each serving should be 3.5 ounces cooked, or about 3/4 cup flaked (as in tuna.) Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, and albacore tuna contain the highest amounts of omega-3s. Now, if you're reading this and thinking, No way does my family eat fish twice a week, you're not alone—most people fall short. Just jump in and start somewhere. For an easy, tasty lunch, make a tuna or salmon salad (see our recipe, below). Aim to have fish for dinner once per week (see more recipes below). If you are concerned about mercury, follow the FDA and EPA guidelines that suggest women of childbearing age and children may eat up to 12 ounces a week of light tuna and "lower in mercury" seafood (like Pacific flounder, sole, or scallops), or 6 ounces of albacore tuna.

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    Know the Difference Between Omega-3s

    There are three main dietary omega-3 fatty acids, and they aren't all created equal. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), occurs in plant foods like soybeans, canola oil, and pumpkin seeds. The second and third types, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), found mostly in seafood, are most closely associated with boosting heart health. Since your body has to first convert ALA into EPA and DHA for it to be effective, and only a small amount actually gets converted, it's important to get the bulk of your omega-3s from fish sources.

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    Not a Fish Eater?

    If you don't love fish, add daily servings of foods like ground flaxseeds, walnuts, and leafy greens into your diet. At your next physical, talk to your doctor about taking a fish oil supplement.

    Originally published in the April 1, 2011, issue of Family Circle magazine.

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