According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 80% of cardiovascular disease (CVD), including heart attack and stroke, is preventable.
Well, did you know you can prevent CVD by eating healthy fats?
Keeping your heart healthy is key to longevity! Limiting your intake of saturated fats, trans fats, sodium and added sugars can significantly reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke. But not all fat is bad, and good fats can be a heart-healthy addition to any well-rounded diet plan. Omega-3 fatty acids are good fats that work to keep your heart healthy!
What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3s) are polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) that your body cannot produce on its own, and are otherwise known as essential fatty acids. The three most extensively researched omega-3s are alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Alpha-linoleic acid is mostly found in plant sources, while EPA and DHA are considered marine sources of omega-3s. These fatty acids help to form the body of phospholipids and play a structural role in cell membranes. However, research has found omega-3s to have many other benefits beyond your cell walls!
How Do Omega-3s Improve Heart Health?
Lower Blood Pressure
Scientists have found that taking fish oil supplements can reduce blood pressure just as effectively as making other lifestyle changes, such as exercising more and reducing your sodium intake.
Decrease Your Triglycerides
Triglycerides are a form of fat found in your blood that can contribute to heart disease when chronically elevated. Randomized controlled trials have shown that high doses of omega-3s can significantly reduce triglycerides and increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) in patients with hyperlipidemia when compared to traditional statins. Whether you get them naturally in your food or by taking supplements, upping your omega-3 intake will increase your good cholesterol and slow plaque formation to prevent Coronary Heart Disease (CHD)! 
Reduce the Risk of Sudden Cardiac Death
In a meta-analysis of eight randomized controlled trials, omega-3 fatty acids were found to reduce the risk of cardiac death and all-cause mortality in patients who had previously suffered from heart attacks. While research regarding the benefits of omega-3s and CVD is evident, the extent of its cardioprotective benefits and the recommended dosages to get those benefits is still the subject of some debate among health care professionals. 
How Can I Get More Omega-3s?
Ultimately, eating more fish is the most surefire way to increase your omega-3 intake. Fatty, cold-water fish (e.g., salmon and mackerel) contain the highest amounts of omega-3s when compared to less fatty fish (e.g., bass and tilapia). Studies have also shown that farm-raised salmon contains less EPA and DHA than wild-caught salmon.
Here’s a breakdown of fat-friendly fish, and the amount of DHA and EPA they contain for every 3 ounces:
- Salmon: 1.24 grams of DHA, 0.59 grams of EPA
- Herring: 0.94 grams of DHA, 0.77 grams of EPA
- Mackerel: 0.59 grams of DHA, 0.43 grams of EPA
- Rainbow trout: 0.44 grams DHA, 0.40 grams EPA
- Sea bass: 0.47 grams DHA, 0.18 grams EPA
- Shrimp: 0.12 grams DHA, 0.12 grams EPA
While eating fish is the most popular way to get EPA and DHA, nuts, beans, seeds and plant oils provide ample amounts of ALA. Here’s a breakdown of several popular options and the amount of ALA they contain:
- Flaxseed oil (1 tbsp): 7.26 grams ALA
- Chia seeds (1 ounce): 5.06 grams ALA
- Walnuts (1 ounce): 2.57 grams ALA
- Whole flaxseed (1 tbsp): 2.35 grams ALA
- Canola oil (1 tbsp): 1.28 grams ALA
- Soybean oil (1 tbsp): 0.92 grams ALA
- Mayonnaise (1 tbsp): 0.74 grams ALA
- Edamame (½ cup): 0.28 grams ALA
- Beans (½ cup): 0.21 grams ALA
- One Egg: 0.03 grams DHA
Although ALA can be converted into EPA and DHA in the liver, the conversion rate is minimal. For this reason, if you don’t eat fish, dietary supplementation is the way to go! 
How Much Omega-3 Do I Need Per Day?
Currently, there is no Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for omega-3 fatty acids due to insufficient data. However, Adequate Intakes (AIs) have been established for various age groups.
AIs are average daily levels of intake assumed to ensure nutritional adequacy for the general population when RDAs have not been determined. AIs are part of the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) set by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine.
The AI for adults 19 to 50 years old is 1.6 grams per day for men and 1.1 grams for women. This recommendation is also the same for men and women over 51 years old. If you fall into this age range, eating just one Tbsp of flaxseed would exceed the daily AI, providing 2.35 grams of omega-3 fatty acid from ALA. So, 4 ounces of salmon or 1 ounce of walnuts should provide ample omega-3s for all adults!
It is recommended that pregnant women consume 1.4 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day to support the growth and development of their baby’s brain and retinas. Studies have also shown consuming the AI for omega-3s while pregnant can reduce the risk of postpartum depression. If you’re pregnant and looking to get enough daily AI, try to eat 4 ounces of Atlantic salmon per day!
As children grow, essential fatty acids remain vital for cognitive development. From birth to 12 months, babies need 0.5 grams of omega-3s per day. From ages one to three, this increases to 0.7 grams per day. Children from 4 to 8 years of age require 0.9 grams of omega-3s daily, while teens 9 to 13 need 1.0 to 1.2 grams per day. 
What Other Health Benefits Do Omega-3s Offer?
Other than protecting against cardiovascular disease, omega-3s have several other health benefits!
Enhance Cognitive Function
Aging and decline in cognitive function go hand in hand. Well, what if eating omega-3s could slow these both? In a meta-analysis of 12 RCTs, significant differences were observed in the reduction of cognitive decline when receiving low dose omega-3 fatty acids. This effect was seen at less than 1.73 grams of omega-3s per day and could be seen by regularly including 3 ounces of salmon into your diet! Scientists have also shown that DHA can be neuroprotective in preventing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. 
Studies have shown that omega-3s provide anxiolytic effects to those who suffer from anxiety, ADHD and depression. Omega-3 fatty acids are located in brain membranes and may help control neuroplasticity, inflammation and other neurobiological processes. However, more research is needed to confirm omega-3’s ability to effectively treat these diseases! 
Due to the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3s, medical professionals have utilized them to treat rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA leads to deformities in the joints, causing inflammation, pain and swelling. Researchers have found significant improvement in self-reported functional scores amongst patients with RA with increased omega-3 consumption when compared to traditional analgesic medication. 
Healthy skin starts from within! As a result of ultraviolet radiation (UVR), our skin experiences cellular damage and inflammation that causes wrinkles, aging and sun damage. Studies have found an association between consuming omega-3 fatty acids and reduced signs of aging in the skin. One study found that higher intakes of omega-3s were associated with a decreased likelihood of dryness and skin degradation.