Fabulous Fish Oil Findings: Part 2

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In last week’s blog entry (“Fabulous Fish Oil Findings: Part 1”) we discussed what fish oils are as well as many of the health benefits that these essential fatty acids have to offer. By the way, two studies were published in the April issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showing that omega-3 fatty acids may help slow cognitive decline in the elderly.

One study compared people who ate fish to those who didn’t; those who did eat fish had a slower decrease in cognitive function. The other study showed that high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood were correlated with a decreased cognitive decline in the area of verbal fluency, especially among the people who had high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels. So, here’s yet another reason to fit fish into your diet.

Speaking of fish and diet, you may be wondering how much fish you should eat and which fish have the most fish oils. Or maybe you’re wondering if you can reap the benefits of omega-3s without eating fish—for example, are there plant sources of omega-3s? We’ll focus on food sources of omega-3s this week and next week we’ll take a look at supplements.

According to the American Heart Association, if you don’t have heart disease, you should aim to eat at least two fish meals per week (or about 0.5 grams of fish oils per day), along with foods rich in alpha-linolenic acid (such as flaxseed, canola oil, and walnuts). People who have heart disease should aim for one gram of fish oils (both EPA and DHA) daily. These folks can consider taking a supplement. And, for people with high triglyceride levels, between two to four grams of fish oils is recommended, under the supervision of a physician.

The fattier the fish, the more fish oil it contains. Fatty fish include salmon, herring, mackerel, lake trout, and tuna. All seafood contains some fish oil, but obviously you get the most bang for your buck from eating the fattier sources. So, for example, to get one gram of omega-3s from fish, you’d need to eat 3 ounces of salmon (wild or farmed), 4 ounces of canned albacore tuna, 7 ounces of flounder, or 15 ounces of haddock. (For a good list of the omega-3 content of fish, click here.)

If you live in areas where it’s hard to find good, fresh fish, don’t despair: Canned salmon, canned tuna, and canned sardines are good sources. Buy canned fish packed in water, not oil. If you’re worried about the sodium content, rinse the fish under running water for several minutes.

What about mercury in fish? Unfortunately, this is a concern for everyone, especially pregnant women and children. Pregnant women and children should avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish, but they can eat canned light tuna (up to 12 ounces per week), as well as many other fish. For more information on this topic, click here.

Generally, however, the benefits of eating fish outweigh the potential risks. And if you’re overly concerned, taking fish oil supplements is certainly an option.

What about plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids? The goal is to aim for about one gram of alpha-linolenic acid each day. Canola oil contains 1.3 grams per tablespoon, flaxseed contains 2.2 grams per tablespoon (flaxseed needs to be ground up before eating), and flaxseed oil contains 8.5 grams per tablespoon. Golden flaxseed has the same nutrition benefits as brown flaxseed, by the way; however, the taste of golden flaxseed is more appealing. Don’t forget, too, that nuts, such as walnuts and pecans, as well as tofu, soybeans, sesame seeds, and dark green vegetables (such as spinach, broccoli, kale, and seaweed) also contain omega-3s. Aim to include these foods in your eating plan as often as you can, especially if you’re a vegetarian or don’t like seafood.

Next week: Fish oil supplements!

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