By Carolyn O’Neil, for the AJC
Eat more of something? That’s good news.
Nutrition advice usually begins with a long list of high fat foods you should be eating less of, like bacon cheeseburgers and fried chicken. But that’s not the case with healthful fats such as the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and some plant foods such as flax seed, canola oil and walnuts.
Research links consumption of omega-3s with an impressive 36 percent reduction in risk from dying of heart disease as well as other health benefits, including lowered blood pressure, enhanced immune function and improved arthritis symptoms.
The versatile disease-fighting power of omega-3s is connected to their anti-inflammatory affect on the body. The three major kinds of kinds of omega-3 fatty acids are known by their chemical abbreviations: DHA, EPA and ALA. DHA and EPA, found in fish, are most closely associated with health benefits. ALA is the form predominantly found in plant sources.
So how much do you need each day and how does that translate to a serving of fish on your dish? Dr. Eric Rimm of the Harvard School of Public Health says medical consensus today advises we consume 250 milligrams a day on average. Consuming one to two 3-ounce servings a week of fish, particularly fish that’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, should be the goal for most folks.
Fatty fish, such as salmon, herring, anchovies and to a lesser extent tuna, contain the most omega-3 fatty acids and therefore the most benefit, but most seafood contains small amounts. Although freshwater fish generally have less omega-3, trout can be a respectable source.
What about concerns related to mercury contamination or other toxins in fish? Rimm said the risk is generally outweighed by impressive health benefits.
“I’ve heard arguments, for instance, that wild salmon is better than farm-raised salmon,” he said. “Studies show there’s a small risk of contamination with either choice. But that’s compared to a huge reduction in lifetime cancer and heart disease risk for both. So, I say just eat the salmon.”
Still, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency recommend that women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, nursing mothers and children under age 12 need to limit the amount of fish they eat to no more than 12 ounces of fish or 6 ounces of canned tuna a week and no amount of fish that’s typically high in mercury, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish.
Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” E-mail her at carolyn@carolynoneil .com.