Many of us have been told that eating fatty foods are “bad” for us. However, certain unsaturated fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids - can enormously benefit the whole body, especially the heart.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for many metabolic functions in the body. They are the building blocks for different types of fat in our bodies and since our bodies cannot manufacture them, they must be consumed in the diet. When we digest food that contains omega-3 fatty acids, the body breaks down these fats into fatty acids, which can then be absorbed into the blood where they help store energy and fuel our cells.
Omega-3 fatty acids play a key role in supporting healthy triglyceride levels and have been shown to increase high-density “good cholesterol.” They also may decrease platelet aggregation, which may improve blood flow to the heart, and decrease the chance of the heart developing an abnormal rhythm.
Key fatty acids include ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). ALA is commonly found in plants, while EPA and DHA occur mostly in animal foods and algae. The body cannot create them on its own, so it’s important to get them from your diet.
Researchers recommend 0.5 to 1.8 grams per day of combined EPA and DHA, which can be obtained by eating fatty fish (preferably wild-caught) or through a high-quality EPA/DHA supplement. Consuming 1.5 to 3 grams per day of ALA is also beneficial by consuming foods with ALA or with ALA nutritional supplements.
Are you interested in improving your heart health? The American Heart Association dietary guidelines for a healthy diet recommend including at least 2 servings of wild-caught fatty fish (such as sardines or salmon) per week or eating other foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts. If that’s not possible, or if you follow a strict vegetarian diet, the Association recommends incorporating omega-3 fatty acid capsules (such as algae-based DHA) into your diet.