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 Greenland Inuit tribe 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
There are several things you want to know about these essential fatty acids. Here's a quick overview:
Omega-3 fats aren't manufactured in our bodies, so we have to get them from food 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 humans 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 best food source is probably salmon. It's readily available and comfortably familiar, making it the perfect choice for getting the omega-3s you need. Other excellent sources include sardines, mackerel, halibut, and cod. The front-runner on the plant side is flaxseed and flax oil. Other sources include chia seeds, walnuts, walnut oil, soybeans, and canola oil. Surprisingly, kiwifruit is also a good source.
The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fish per week, Especially fatty fish, along with four servings of unoiled, unsalted nuts, especially walnuts. Use these recipes to help get you started on the road to the amazing heart-health of the Inuits.
Roast Salmon with Parsley-Spinach Sauce
Serve this vividly colored treat with wild rice and the avocado and kale salad at right for an extra wallop of omega-3 goodness. Keep the extra sauce on the side in case anyone wants more.
1 cup Italian parsley leaves
2 handfuls fresh baby spinach
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1 tsp. microplaned lemon zest
4 6-oz. pieces wild-caught salmon fillet
1 Tbs. lemon olive oil
- Preheat oven to 425°F. Combine parsley, spinach, olive oil, lemon juice, and lemon zest in blender or food processor. Purée until just smooth.Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
- Place salmon on foil-lined baking sheet, and moisten with lemon olive oil. Roast 13-17 minutes, depending on thickness of filets, until just cooked through. Transfer to serving plates, spread 1 Tbs. sauce over each fillet, and serve immediately.
PER SERVING: 301 cal; 35g pro; 17g total fat (3g sat fat); 2g carb; 80mg chol; 107mg sod; 1g fiber;
Tuscan Kale and Avocado Salad with Walnut-Flax Dressing
Paired as a side with our Roast Salmon with Parsley-Spinach Sauce-or simply served on its own as a light lunch-this delicious salad packs a big dose of heart-healthy omega-3s.
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. Barlean's Lignan Flaxseed Oil
1 tsp. walnut oil
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1 Tbs. rice wine vinegar
3 cups finely-shredded Tuscan black kale, ribs removed
1 large ripe avocado, cut into small cubes
2 Tbs. finely chopped walnuts
1 Tbs. grated Parmesan
- Whisk together olive oil, flaxseed oil, walnut oil, lemon juice, and rice wine vinegar in medium bowl. Set aside.
- Combine kale and avocado in separate bowl, and toss gently with enough dressing to moisten lightly. Add walnuts and Parmesan, and toss to combine.
PER SERVING: 210 cal; 4g pro; 19g total fat (3g sat fat); 10g carb; 1mg chol; 44mg sod; 4g fiber;
Feast on Healthy Fats
Type of Fat
Good Food Sources
Cold-water fish (such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, calamari), grass-feed beef
Flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, soybeans, canola oil, wheat germ, hemp seed, perilla oil, cauliflower, hummus, purslane, Brussels sprouts, Sacha inchi seeds/nuts, kiwifruit, omega-3-enriched eggs