Healthy Eating: Some fats linked to health benefits

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.

Salmon is a great source of healthy fats. Photo credit:

Salmon is a great source of healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids. Photo credit:

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

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10 comments Add your comment


April 14th, 2010
7:42 pm

Who cares? Bring me the KFC DOUBLE DOWN!!!!!
Oh yeah, FIRST!!!!


April 14th, 2010
9:36 pm

Faced with a health issue five years ago, I did extensive research and learned about good fats/bad fats, good carbs/bad carbs, etc. The biggest factor was Omega-3s. When it comes to farm raised vs. wild on any fish, here’s what I found — farm raised are given “feed” that diminishes the impact of Omega-3 whereas wild is extremely high. If at all possible, go for the wild! As for mercury contamination, my research showed that the larger the fish, the higher the risk — whether wild or farm raised. Just my two cents. :)


April 15th, 2010
6:50 am

So, with such important info….we now need some quick, easy tasty recipes and menus built around this, and helping us incorprate them into our busy lives so we can become healthier!


April 15th, 2010
10:38 am

Buy a cookbook.


April 15th, 2010
10:40 am

Pan-sear both sides of a salmon (season with olive oil, sea salt, pepper) filet for 2-3 min and bake in the oven for 10 for a perfect fish. I also grill it on a cedar plank. Perfect every time and guests love it.


April 15th, 2010
1:36 pm

How about mentioning the health benefits gained by eating grass fed beef which is also naturally high in omega 3 and low in saturated fats? My understanding is grass fed beef is actually higher in omega 3 than farmed fish. That could be the next article regarding this fatty acid.


April 15th, 2010
2:31 pm

Since I had a health problem (heart) in 2005 we have made grilled salmon and grilled vegetables a staple in our home for at least one meal a week. Salmon is now my “steak” and I love it. It also seems to improve blood sugar levels for my wife and myself. I usually season it with olive oil, thyme, and crushed red pepper but also like it with cajun seasoning and lemon. Perfect every time.


April 16th, 2010
3:20 pm

I’m gonna eat a Double Down….Salmon Style!!!! LOL

Ole Guy

April 18th, 2010
9:11 pm

It’s wonderful that the AJC, and public-oriented folks such as Ms. O’Neil, write excellent articles like this. However, I personally believe the vast majority of folks out there are simply too damn lazy to even, well, give a damn…the masses, in spite of well-meaning messages, are more-intent on their candidacy for the Darwin Award.

That being said…thank you, Ms. O’Neil, for an excellent article.


July 20th, 2010
4:23 am

Choose whole foods instead of processed and packaged ones whenever you can
By “whole,” we mean they should exist in nature and have just one primary ingredient (for example, bananas, broccoli, chicken, brown rice, milk). Ninty percent of the time, these goods are the healthiest, and eating mostly whole foods makes it more likely that you’ll get enough protein, fiber and whole grains . And eating fewer packaged foods should help you avoid excess sodium, sugar and calories.