Omega 3’s – The Heart of the Matter

Did you know that the risk of heart disease is three to four times higher in South Asian immigrants than it is in the general American population? Along with some of the underlying hereditary factors, we tend to have a diet high in unhealthy fats, lack of physical activity resulting in overweight/obesity, and high blood triglyceride levels. You may already be aware of heart disease as a result of high intake of cholesterol, saturated fats and trans fats, but we rarely hear about the role of triglyceride levels in the development of heart disease and Type-2 diabetes.

What are Triglycerides?
Triglycerides are a type of fat stored in our bodies. They come from unused or extra calories that the body does not need for energy.

How can I decrease or control my triglyceride levels?
It is advisable to limit the foods that cause the triglyceride levels to go up. These include foods that are high in sugar and unhealthy fats, such as mithais and other desserts. It is also recommended to include healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids in your diet to help lower triglyceride levels.

What are Omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids help lower the risk of heart diseases by reducing the triglyceride levels. Our bodies need omega-3 fatty acids to perform vital functions, and since we don’t produce these essential fatty acids, we have to get them from the foods we eat. Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial not only for individuals with existing heart disease or elevated triglyceride levels, but they are also helpful for normal individuals in preventing heart disease.

What are good sources of Omega 3 fatty acids and how much should we consume?
There are two natural sources of omega-3 fatty acids. One source is from fatty fish such as Salmon, Mackerel, Herring, Albacore tuna, Trout, and Sardines. Another source is plant such as flax seed, canola and soybean oil, and walnuts. One ounce of walnuts or flax seeds contains as much as or more omega-3 fatty acids than 4 ounces of fatty fish. Both plant and fish sources of omega-3 are good for your health and should be consumed regularly. The American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish at least 2 times per week for prevention and approximately 1 gram of omega-3 fatty acids per day, preferably from fatty fish, if you have existing heart disease. See below for a list of foods and their omega-3 fatty acid content. As mercury contamination is a concern, especially for young children and women of childbearing age, avoid certain fish that are high in mercury content. These include Shark, Swordfish, Tilefish, and King Mackerel; also Albacore tuna may be consumed, but limit to no more than 6 ounces per week. For those with elevated triglycerides levels, a higher amount of omega-3 fatty acids (2-4 grams per day) may be needed. If this amount is difficult to obtain from foods, then supplements may be considered under the supervision of your healthcare provider.

In conclusion, lower your triglyceride levels and subsequently your risk for heart disease by including omega-3 fatty acid rich foods as part of a heart-healthy diet. Enjoy fatty fish at least twice a week and consult with your physician to determine if an omega-3 fatty acid supplement is appropriate for you.

Foods and its omega-3 fatty acid content – source: the Minnesota Nutrient Data Base 4.04, Tufts University School of Medicine and United States Department of Agriculture Food Composition Database

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