Traditionally, we’ve been told to avoid fat for our health, particularly for cardiovascular health. But there’s new research that tells us that some fats are not only good for us, our bodies require them. In particular, our bodies need the omega-3 fatty acids, often simply referred to as “omega-3.” These are substances our bodies can’t produce, but must obtain from our food. They’re found in a number of foods, including walnuts, some fruits and vegetables, and coldwater fish like as anchovies, herring, mackerel, salmon, and sturgeon. Omega-3s help maintain the containing membranes around every cell in our body. Other benefits include reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke while helping to reduce symptoms of hypertension, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), joint pain and other rheumatoid problems, as well as certain skin problems. There are studies that suggest that omega-3s can boost the immune system and help protect us from an array of illnesses including Alzheimer’s disease. Most of these are because omega-3s help reduce all sorts of inflammation.
In addition, omega-3s reduce the negative impact of yet another kind of equally essential fatty acid known as omega-6s. Omega-6s are found in eggs, poultry, cereals, vegetable oils, baked goods, and margarine. Omega-6s have profound effects on skin health, they lower cholesterol, and, most importantly, affect the ability of blood to clot. But omega-6s can have unpleasant side effects if they aren’t balanced with sufficient amounts of omega-3s.
Another factor to consider is that there are several kinds of omega-3s; there’s the particularly important omega-3s known to chemists and nutritionists as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). They’re mostly found in cold-water fish. Then there’s Omega-3 ALA (alpha-linolenic acid); two of the best sources are soybean oil, and flaxseed. Others are broccoli, spinach, canola oil, cantaloupe, kidney beans, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, and walnuts; even a handful of walnuts has about 2.5 grams of omega-3 ALA. The ideal balance between the two omegas is roughly 4 parts omega-3s to 1 part omega-6s, according to experts.
Bottom line? Eat lots of walnuts, and tofu, and whole foods naturally containing ALA, but be particularly sure to eat fish, especially cold water fatty fish. You could do worse than follow the American Heart Association’s suggestion to eat fatty fish at least twice weekly, at three or four ounces a serving. The Association suggests that patients with coronary heart disease should include 1,000 milligrams of DHA plus EPA daily in their diet.