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How much Omega-3 Fatty Acids should I be getting per day?
The best research comes from the Inuit Eskimos. They have a lower incidence of coronary disease according to a paper presented by Dr. Neil J. Stone of the American Heart Association. This finding was surprising because the Eskimo's also have a high fat diet. But the difference is that the fats consumed are very high in omega-3 fatty acids, or fish oils. 

Steady your heart with omega-3 fatty acids
Way back in May of 2006 I reported on a study which indicated that omega-3 fatty acid supplements would help reduce one's heart rate at rest and improve the heart's recovery after exercise (Bite, 5/3/06). Other studies show that intake of omega-3 fatty acids can help you reduce your risk of sudden (cardiovascular) death (Bite 11/17/06). These and other factors imply a connection between omega-3 fatty acids and cardiac electrophysiology (the electrical functioning of the heart).

How can I get omega-3 fatty acids if I don't like fish?
One reason people don't like fish is due to the poor quality of fish that they have had in the past. Starting with a mildly-flavored fish like sole or tilapia and purchasing it as fresh as possible from a really reputable shop may help you learn to enjoy it.


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Not just any fish for omega-3 fatty acids

Filet of trout with fresh spinach and orange sections

Previous studies on the relationship between fish consumption and the blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids have been focused mainly on those populations who eat fish frequently. Further, the fish these groups eat tended to be saltwater fish almost exclusively. Canadian researchers recently designed a study to cover those research gaps: their study focuses on those who only eat moderate amounts of fish and tend to eat more freshwater fish than saltwater fish (Am J Clin Nutr 2006; 84:1299-1307).

They recruited by advertising for volunteers through the regional environmental and fishers associations. Those eligible were over 18 and reported eating fish from local lakes. The resulting group contained 243 persons between the ages of 18 and 74, of which 53% were men.

Each volunteer filled out a questionnaire which included questions about age, sex, income, education level, lifestyle habits (such as smoking and drinking alcohol), known illnesses, and medications. Another questionnaire asked about their fish diet throughout the year, detailing specific fish species, where the fish came from (freshwater catch, the market, canned or other), the amount consumed and how often fish was eaten per week. Their Body Mass Index was measured by a nurse and their blood was drawn to measure their blood levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Freshwater fish made up 73% of the total intake of those who ate the most fish in this study. Of that freshwater fish, 89% was lean fish, or those species which contain less than 0.5 gram of fatty acid per 100 grams of fish. By contrast, a freshwater fatty fish such as trout contains over three times the amount of fatty acids.

After correlating the amount of fish consumed with the subjects' blood levels of fatty acids, the researchers were surprised to find that those who ate the most fish had a blood level of fatty acids similar to those who only ate fish occasionally. Again, lean fish made up 88% of the total fish intake for these fish consumers. The scientists theorize that the types of fish may have an impact on how well the body incorporates the fatty acids into the bloodstream.

What this means for you

Lean freshwater fish such as trout, bass, and whitefish may not be the best source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, but they're still delicious and low in both calories and fat. Try a trout recipe: Baked Cumin Trout with Squash and Pumpkin Seeds or Pumpkin-Crusted Trout.

First posted: January 9, 2007