Facebook Pixel

Eating for Good Health: The Importance of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Rate This

How would you react if someone told you to eat more fats? If this thought perks you up, you’re in luck…sort of. You still need to steer clear of saturated fats. However, omega-3 fatty acids, which are unsaturated fats, have been shown to provide many health benefits and are an important part of a healthy diet.

According to the American Heart Association, omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of potentially fatal heart arrhythmias. They reduce triglyceride levels and slightly lower blood pressure. Furthermore, omega-3s slow down the growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque. Atherosclerosis can lead to heart attacks, strokes and other heart and artery diseases; slowing down plaque development helps allow oxygen-rich blood to continue moving throughout your body.

A June 3, 2011, Reuters Health article reported two new studies published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that found a possible link between omega-3 fatty acids and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. While results were not conclusive proof that this link exists, ingestion of food-based omega-3s did show promise against preventing type 2 diabetes.

The researchers cautioned that the fats themselves might not be responsible for the lower risk but that they may be indicators of other beneficial dietary or lifestyle habits that influence diabetes risk. Their advice is to eat a lot of healthy “whole” foods like fiber-rich grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, vegetable oils and fish. Following this type of diet will ensure that you are getting all of your necessary nutrients, including omega-3s.

Omega-3 fats are found in fatty fish as well as in certain plant foods like flaxseed, canola oil and soy. Fatty fish include salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna. The American Heart Association recommends two or more servings per week (3.5 ounces cooked) of fish, with a preference toward fatty fish.

Of course, some fish are also high in mercury content and other contaminants, which can be concerning. Shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish should be avoided because of their high mercury levels. The American Heart Association published a chart outlining mercury levels and omega-3 fatty acid content in commonly found fish and seafood.

As with all nutrients, ingestion through food intake is preferable. However, omega-3 fatty acid supplements are available and may be necessary if you have coronary artery disease or high triglycerides; your health care professional can advise you about the appropriate dose. Be cautious of letting too many omega-3 fatty acids into your system, though; intake of more than 3g/day can thin the blood and potentially increase risk of stroke. The immune system may also be compromised with too high a dose of omega-3s.

There is no magical pill that can help solve all of our health problems. But eating a well-balanced variety of foods prepared healthily and rich in nutrients can help ensure we get all the nutrients we need.


American Heart Association

National Institutes of Health

Omega-3 Fats Linked to Lower Diabetes Risk

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Reviewed June 7, 2011
Edited by Alison Stanton

Add a Comment3 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

The advice in this posting is somewhat inaccurate... for one there is zero scientific evidence that saturated fats are bad for you... this is very outdated advice that was based on an attempt to decrease disease without understanding the mechanisms of action and the result was an increase in disease and death! There is also no scientific evidence that 3grams or more of omega-3s increase risk of bleeding - not before, during, or after surgery and the problem with these kinds of dosing instructions is that we're not looking at the background diet or using bio-markers and most Americans are beyond deficient in omega-3s because they're consuming 16 to 1 pro-inflammatory hormone producing omega-6s to anti-inflammatory hormone producing omega-3s! Additionally, the American Heart Association just put out its first ever scientific statement stating that >1000g of EPA+DHA (the long chain, beneficial omega-3s) can be used to manage triglyceride levels... something the industry has known for more than 30 years but its nice to know that AHA is finally on board.

June 9, 2011 - 7:06am
(reply to Anonymous)

Thank you for your post. While I agree that saturated fats are not the "ultimate evil," it is true that they can raise cholesterol levels in the blood, which warrants caution. Perhaps my advice to "steer clear" was a little overstated! In any case, unsaturated fats are certainly preferable to highly saturated fatty foods, which was the point I aimed to underscore.

I have read the AHA statement re: managing triglyceride levels, which led me to defer to a health care practitioner for supplemental dosing advice. As I'm not a medical practitioner, I hesitate to advise about dosing; the warning about <3g/day was informed by a couple of different resources. While I prefer to err on the side of caution, I do appreciate the additional information.

Ultimately, the goal of this article was to encourage readers to incorporate healthy, omega-3-rich foods into their diets. Hopefully that message came across!

June 9, 2011 - 8:03am
EmpowHER Guest

Obesity is not the fault of the overweight person. In fact, it is almost impossible to lose weight in the USA due to Food Chemicals.

The food has been legally poisoned with chemicals and this is proven by a European filmmaker

A filmmaker has shown how to reverse weight gain with a diabetes diet for NON diabetics in 10 countries and the DRUG MAKERS HID THE STORY

The diet reverses the damage from Food chemicals and causes weight loss

If you cannot lose weight it is not your fault
SEE HERE http://spirithappy.wordpress.com/2011/04/19/can-i-lose-weight-not-with-these-popular-diets-says-usa-today-news/

June 7, 2011 - 6:38am
Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy
Add a Comment

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

Diet & Nutrition

Get Email Updates

Diet & Nutrition Guide

Have a question? We're here to help. Ask the Community.


Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!