November 2004 Edition
Healthwise: Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Think all fat is bad for you? Think Again.

by Susan Wesenhagen

Say the word "fat" when you're talking about food, and people automatically jump to the conclusion that it must be bad for you - but Omega-3 fatty acids are something entirely different.

Omega-3 essential fatty acids represent a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids. They're called essential because not unlike vitamins, you must obtain these fats through your diet or through dietary supplements.

The study of much debate and research, these vital nutrients have made headlines in recent years for their ability to protect against disease and treat illness.

Omega-3's have been credited with regulating blood sugar levels, maintaining a healthy blood flow, inhibiting tumor growth and lowering risk of cancer. They're also critical to heart health, and can be a powerful medicine for patients suffering from joint and inflammatory diseases. It appears that mental health too, can be enhanced by the presence of Omega-3 in the diet - according to a study published in the British Medical Journal elderly patients who ate seafood or fish once per week had a significantly lower risk of developing dementia.

So it’s no wonder that foods rich in Omega-3 essential fatty acids, particularly cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, cod and mackeral could have a special place on the menu for many.

Fish oil and cod liver oil supplements are also good sources of Omega-3, but eating a salmon filet has the added bonus of being a delicious meal as well! Oil rich fish, such as salmon has about 2.3 grams of Omega-3 per 100 g serving, while fresh tuna has about 1.6 grams of Omega-3 per 100 g serving. In Canada the recommended daily dose of Omega-3 is 1.5 grams and increasingly food manufacturers are fortifying their foods with Omega-3 making it easier for Canadians to get their daily dosage of this essential nutrient. The two most commonly fortified foods are eggs and infant formula, though worldwide Omega-3 fortified foods include other staples such as bread, milk, meal replacement bars, and soups.

Besides fish products, Omega-3 can be found in flaxseed (linseed) oil, rapeseed (canola) oil, as well as in walnuts, walnut oil and dark green leafy vegetables. These selections are essential food choices for vegetarians wishing to increase their intake of Omega-3 and they can easily be added to the menu for the benefit of anyone wishing to increase their daily intake of Omega-3 - a fat that's actually good for you!¨


Omega-3 and Disease Prevention

Omega-3 is instrumental in disease prevention and treatment.

The Heart and Circulatory System: Omega-3's may protect against thrombotic stroke by promoting a healthy blood flow and they reduce triglycerides, inhibit the build up of plaque inside the artery walls, reduce blood pressure and lower blood viscosity.

Cancer: Omega-3's may have protective benefits when it comes to breast, prostate and colon cancer.

Depression: Depression among fish eating populations is uncommon. It is believed that Omega-3 regulates the up-take of serotonin, much the same way as an antidepressant works. So a diet rich in Omega-3 could aid in relief from depression.

Dementia: Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, is less common in Japan where diets are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish. A study found that people who ate fish or seafood at least once a week had a lower risk of developing dementia.

Arthritis and Inflammation: Omega-3's have anti-inflammatory properties and can reduce joint pain and stiffness. They also benefit Crohn's disease patients and reduce the itching for those individuals suffering from Psoriasis.