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By Darla Ferrara

Why omega-3 is the good fat for a healthy diet

Fat gets a bad rap in the world of nutrition, but it's really about making smart fat choices like adding more omega-3 to your diet. From lowering your risk of heart attack to enhancing your mood, omega-3 provides a wide variety of health benefits. Find out more about the good fat found in omega-3 and why it is an essential nutrient for your whole family.

What is omega-3?

Omega-3 falls into the category of polyunsaturated fatty acids – an important element for metabolism. The human body does not make omega-3 on its own but absorbs it through food to create long chains. It's these long chains that improve your health.

What is the connection between omega-3 and heart health?

The most prominent benefit attributed to omega-3 is heart health. Dietary omega-3 lowers your risk of coronary heart disease, balances out blood cholesterol, reduces inflammation in the blood vessels and lowers the levels of blood triglycerides – the main ingredient in body fat. There is some evidence to suggest that adding it to your diet might help lower blood pressure rates as well.

If you already had a heart attack, your physician may put you on a prescription dosage of omega-3 to protect your heart from further damage.

What are the other health benefits of omega-3?

The benefits of adding more omega-3 to your diet may go beyond just heart health, but the evidence is less conclusive. Researchers are considering how increasing omega-3 might:

  • Enhance moods – Reducing the symptoms of depression, especially associated with bipolar disorder
  • Reduce inflammation – At least one study shows benefits for those who suffer from the joint inflammation that comes with rheumatoid arthritis
  • Stroke prevention – Omega-3 helps prevent the build-up of plaque inside the blood vessels that can lead to stroke

How much is too much omega-3?

Although there is some benefit to adding more omega-3 to your diet, too much is not a good thing. In high doses, omega-3 can cause excessive bleeding and may put you at risk for a stroke. Large amounts of this fat will also raise low-density lipoprotein or "bad" cholesterol in your blood and affect your heart rate as well.

There may be a connection between omega-3 intake and high blood sugar levels, too. If you have diabetes, talk to your doctor before making any changes in your diet including adding more omega-3 rich foods.

The primary food source for omega-3 is fish. The downside to eating more fish is the potential of mercury intake. Keep this in mind when picking out fish at the market. Avoid eating shark, swordfish and other seafood known to have high levels of mercury.

What is the best source of omega-3?

You can take dietary supplements that contain omega-3, but getting it from your food is a much better choice. Adding two 3.5 ounce servings of an oily, flaky fish like salmon or tuna to your menu plan each week is all it takes to reap the benefits that come with omega-3 fatty acids.

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