Beef up your fish intake and benefit from Omega-3 fatty acids
A visitor to the state of Oregon will soon learn about Mt. Hood, the Oregon Coast and freshly-caught, scrumptious salmon.
For a dietitian, salmon is all about fatty acids known as Omega-3's. Kimra Hawk, a registered dietitian, performs outpatient counseling at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland. In her nearly three decades of service, Hawk has learned about the health benefits of Omega-3's.
"Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of fat that's necessary for human health," Hawk said. "Actually, our bodies can't make them."
The more healthful Omega-3's, known as DHA and EPA, are found in fish, according to Hawk. ALA Omega-3's are fatty acids from plants found in, among other sources, walnuts and flaxseed.
Salmon is singled out as a particularly good source of Omega-3's. "All seafood is going to have at least small amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids," Hawk said. "In particular, we're looking at the fatty and darker flesh-type fish." The best choices in this category include salmon, lake trout, mackerel, sardines and tuna.
Non-fish ALA Omega-3 sources include flax seed, flax seed oil, walnuts, canola oil, soybeans and soybean oil. Hawk pointed out that probably less than 10 percent of the ALA is converted to the more healthful DHA and EPA. She said, "Those (DHA, EPA) are the ones that have really been shown to be beneficial to us."
Omega-3 fatty acids are good for our health. "They're crucial in terms of brain function and normal growth and development," she said. "Pregnant women should eat them. Infants (children) should have them for good brain development."
Hawk added, "Pregnant women, and women of child-bearing age, can benefit from Omega-3 fatty acids. It's suggested these women get two to three servings per week, which would be 8 to 12 ounces per week."
Among other health benefits, Hawk said these Omega-3's can reduce inflammation, which can be found in heart disease, cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. "By having more Omega-3 fatty acids, and reducing our inflammation, we might then decrease our risk of some of the chronic diseases," she said.
While seafood is a great source of these fatty acids, evidence suggests we're not getting enough Omega- 3's.
"Dietary guidelines suggest that we get at least 8 ounces of seafood per week to get at least 250 milligrams of Omega-3's," Hawk said. "Currently only one out of 10 Americans achieve that."
Omega-3 fish oils are available as supplements, but you might check with a dietitian to determine the overall effect of these supplements.
"Studies just aren't showing that supplements are as beneficial," Hawk said. "Part of it is they (Omega-3's) don't seem to get into our system as well. Our bodies are really programmed to efficiently take food in, process it and absorb the nutrients, but the fish oils just aren't showing that. Taking fish oil is better than nothing."
If you want to incorporate more seafood into your diet, Hawk suggests some dinnertime tips.
"Salmon is pretty plentiful here in the Northwest," she said, noting it might be a good idea to cook up a little extra salmon. Leftover salmon is can be used on a salad the next day or as salmon patties for your lunch break. Consider adding tuna to your salad or making a tuna sandwich. Some even like sardines.
Why not have fun with Omega-3's. Hawk said, "Gosh, with computers and stuff nowadays, you can find all kinds of recipes to add seafood to your diet."