With heart disease the leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s time to listen to your heart and get the right kinds of fats into your daily diet. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends consuming polyunsaturated fats, specifically omega-3 fatty acids, for heart health. But what are these “good fats” and how do you make them a part of your daily nutrition program?
“Hundreds of studies from prestigious groups like the National Institutes of Health and universities like Harvard and Tufts, repeatedly and consistently show that when you add omega-3-rich foods or supplements to the diet, you help to lower your risk for heart disease,” says Elizabeth Somer, a registered dietitian and author of “Eat Your Way to Sexy.” “One important step is making sure your diet is packed with heart-healthy omega-3s. The omega-3s in fatty fish, especially DHA, keep blood vessels squeaky clean and reduce inflammation. They lower heart disease risk; raise HDLs – the good cholesterol; help stabilize the heartbeat and reduce blood clots, thereby curbing the risk for heart attack and stroke.”
Somer answers some questions about heart health:
Q: What are the main differences between “good fats” and “bad fats?”
A: We often hear that Americans eat too much fat, while people in other parts of the world aren’t eating enough. The truth is that, regardless of fat intake, very few people are eating the right fats. Fats to avoid are saturated and trans fats, which are solid at room temperature – like butter. In contrast, consuming polyunsaturated fatty acids – specifically omega-3s DHA and EPA found in fatty fish – are important for brain, eye and cardiovascular health.
Q: Doesn’t my body make all of the omega-3s needed to help maintain a strong heart?
A: Many experts have indicated that the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are essential nutrients due to the limited ability of our body to make enough of them and because of their beneficial health effects. That’s why we must get these nutrients from the foods we eat and supplements. The main dietary source of DHA and EPA is cold-water fish, such as salmon. Unfortunately, studies show the American diet includes far less than the ideal amount of DHA and EPA. For example, an average U.S. diet contains less than 100 milligrams of DHA per day. That is well below one expert’s recommendation of at least 220 milligrams of DHA per day. Studies show that the more omega-3s you consume, the healthier your heart.
Q: What if I don’t like eating fish – are there other ways to get DHA and EPA into my diet?
A: The most common sources of DHA and EPA omega-3s are fatty fish and fish oil. Interestingly, many people believe that fish produce their own DHA and EPA, but in actuality it is the microalgae in their food chain that make fish such a rich source of omega-3s. For those who do not eat significant amounts of fish due to dietary preferences, allergies, a vegetarian lifestyle or worries about potential ocean-borne pollutants, there are DHA/EPA supplements made from algae. One such supplement is Schiff MegaRed Plant-Omega, which is made from a vegetarian and sustainable source of DHA and EPA – algae. To learn more, visit www.schiffmegared.com.
Q: How much DHA/EPA should I get in my diet?
A: If you’re not getting at least two servings a week of salmon, mackerel, herring or sardines, and you’re not loading foods fortified with an algal-based DHA onto your plate, then make sure to take at least 220 milligrams of DHA in pill form. According to the American Heart Association, people with documented coronary heart disease (CHD) are advised to consume about one gram of EPA and DHA per day.