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Science folks knew for many years that omega-3 fatty acids were necessary for the normal development of brain, eyes, and nerves in humans, but nobody paid a whole lot of attention to them until the 1970s. Then, a study discovered that the Inuit Eskimo tribe in Greenland had a startlingly low incidence of heart disease—despite the fact that their protein intake was extremely high in fat, particularly oily fish fat, which is packed with omega-3s.
By 2004, a plethora of studies led the very cautious U.S. Food and Drug Administration to state that “research shows that consumption of [omega-3 fatty acids] may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.” And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, “research shows that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and may help lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.” And the Harvard School of Public Health notes that, “new studies are identifying potential benefits for a wide range of conditions, including cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and other autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.”
Go to the Source
Omega-3 fats are not manufactured in our bodies, so we have to get them from food and supplement sources. Those sources may be plant or animal—cold-water oily fish are the primary animal source, and certain seeds, nuts, and oils the primary plant source. The difference is that our bodies can immediately use the fatty acids found in fish, while our bodies must first convert the fats found in plants into usable nutrients. Studies seem to indicate that more of the available omega-3 is synthesized through consumption of fish, but plant sources are nevertheless useful options, especially for vegetarians. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fish per week, particularly fatty fish, along with four servings of nuts, especially walnuts.
Try the recipes here to help get you started on the road to the amazing heart health of the Inuit Eskimos.
Mind The Mercury
Remember to be cautious about the mercury levels in your fish. Wild-caught salmon is best, and sea trout and halibut are good choices; keep tuna and other larger fish such as swordfish and shark to a minimum, especially for children and pregnant or nursing moms.
Neil Zevnik is a private chef based in Los Angeles who is devoted to the proposition that “healthy” doesn’t have to mean “ho-hum.” He also writes for the Huffington Post and has his own website, neilzevnik.com.