In July, supermarkets feature super-healthy wild salmon just in time for you to reel in five good-fat benefits from the omega-3 fatty acids in this fish – ocean trout, too. And you can boost those good-fat benefits by enjoying some specific nuts, veggies and supplements alongside the day’s catch. More on that in a minute.
Omega-3s are a family of health-bestowing fats that put a damper on inflammation, improve brain-cell communication and more. That’s how they lower your risk by 30 percent for dangerous, off-beat heart rhythms (a-fib) that can cause stroke, and cut your odds for other heart troubles. They also keep your brain sharp, help stabilize blood sugar levels, strengthen your immune system, improve lung function and more.
In the family of omega-3s, the most powerful is DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). It’s a structural fat in your brain, providing insulation for brain cells and connections between them. You can get DHA from fish and supplements (fish oil – or algal oil, which is what we take. Algae are where the fish get omega-3s from in the first place). Then there’s EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which is found in fish as well, and seems to positively influence mood and behavior.
Less powerful, but still important – especially for the heart – is ALA (alpha linolenic acid), found in walnuts, avocado, flaxseed, purslane and chia seeds. Here are some healthy and tasty ways to introduce them into your system:
1. Start with fish: Salmon and ocean trout are top sources of DHA. Aim for four 3-ounce servings a week. Farm-raised is OK, but the leftovers from processing wild salmon go into canned salmon and frozen salmon burgers.
2. Catch a supplement: Choose an omega-3 supplement that provides the same dose we take daily: 900 milligrams of algal oil DHA. Some fish oils may contain other fats that actually cause inflammation, so try to get the purest you can.
3. Go for good-fat snacks: Pair a handful of ALA-rich walnuts – aim for 12 halves a day – with a piece of fruit or crunchy veggies for a filling between-meal pick-me-up. Nibble avocado chunks, bake up some flax-seed muffins or munch a salad tossed with purslane.
If you follow these tips, here are the benefits you’ll get:
• Omega-3s protect your heart. After a heart attack, omega-3s reduce inflammation so your cardiovascular system can heal. They also buffer your heart against mental stress by helping lower the levels of stress hormones in your bloodstream.
• They boost immunity. DHA-rich fish oil activates B cells, immune-system warriors that fight infection. Consuming walnuts and DHA each have been associated with lower rates of breast cancer.
• They discourage diabetes. Omega-3s from fish and fish or algal oil supplements raise blood levels of adiponectin, a hormone that helps your body process blood sugar and discourages fat cells from releasing inflammatory chemicals that mess with your body’s ability to absorb glucose.
• They protect your brain. Omega-3 fatty acids can protect your brain’s ability to grow new nerve cells, particularly if that process has come under attack from eating added sugars, saturated fat in meats and dairy and trans fats found in processed foods and baked goods. If you’re a typical 55-to-65-year-old, taking 900 mg of DHA a day makes your brain function as if it were six years younger.
• They even can protect your eyes. Not smoking and avoiding UV rays are two of the four things we know help protect against the more common form, or first stage, of age-related macular degeneration. The other two? Get 10 mg of lutein and 900 mg of DHA daily through diet or supplements.
• They reduce airway inflammation. About 60 percent of people with exercise-triggered asthma will benefit. These fats also help keep the sun’s ultraviolet rays from lowering immune defenses in your skin and guard against skin cancer while you’re outside exercising.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show” and Dr. Mike Roizen is chairman of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.