We cut to the chase: omega-3 fatty acids are not overhyped. On the contrary, they are a key part of a healthy diet and have many scientifically proven benefits for the health of your heart, your brain and your health. longevity. But before you splurge down the supplement aisle, know that omega-3s are found in a number of nutritious foods. In fact, they’re one of the many reasons doctors and health experts recommend eating certain types of fatty fish, including salmon and other fatty fish, as well as other common superfoods, including chia seeds and walnuts.
If you’re still unsure what exactly omega-3s are and how they relate to cardiovascular health (especially as you age), rest assured you’re not alone. To help clarify some of your questions and better understand why exactly this particular compound is, we spoke to a cardiologist. Suzanne SteinbaumMD, volunteer medical expert for the American Heart Association Go red for women movement.
What are omega-3 fatty acids?
“Simply put, omega-3s are a kind of polyunsaturated fatty acid that’s needed to maintain healthy functioning in your body, specifically the functioning of your cell membranes,” says Dr. Steinbaum. There are three main forms of omega-3 fatty acids: EPA and DHA, which are often found in fatty fish; and ALA, more commonly found in nuts and seeds. “In addition to the role they play in your cell walls, they also serve as a source of energy and help maintain the function of your heart, lungs, blood vessels and immune system.”
How are omega-3s related to heart health?
While omega-3s offer many benefits for gut health, brain health, skincare, and more, cardiologists often tout this nutrient as especially crucial for heart health. “Omega-3 fatty acids are considered ‘essential’ fats, which means our bodies don’t make omega-3s on their own. But because we still need them, we have to get them from food sources,” says Dr. Steinbaum. “Studies have shown that omega-3s can help lower blood pressure and triglycerides, aka the fat in your blood. Additionally, omega-3s may help increase longevity by fending off certain diseases. There is evidence to suggest that they can reduce your risk of heart attacks, strokes and death from heart disease.”
The best sources of omega-3 foods
Now that we know how much consuming omega-3-rich foods boosts your cardiovascular system in the long run, we obviously wonder how much we should be consuming to reap the benefits. “There is no standard recommended guideline for omega-3 intake, but it is suggested to eat at least two servings of oily fish per week,” says Dr. Steinbaum. “These fatty fish can include tuna, sardines, mackerel, trout, herring or of course salmon. Other key sources of omega-3s include olive oil, nuts, avocado , chia seeds and flax seeds.
You can also try some of these delicious omega-3 rich breakfast recipes, including the chia seed pudding and vegan banana bread featured in this video:
So… Should I Consider Omega-3 Supplements?
Despite the high presence of omega-3s in fish and other naturally fatty plant-based foods, Dr. Steinbaum notes that omega-3s are absorbed variably. “Therefore, the best way to make sure you’re getting enough omega-3s is to have your levels checked. If your levels are low, your doctor can recommend supplements if needed,” she says, saying you should be sure to speak with a doctor or dietitian before introducing any new supplements into your routine.
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