Monday, December 24, 2012

3 Things You Need to Know about Omega-3s

Increasing your intake of omega-3s is a healthy and easy way to use your food as medicine to combat inflammation.

Spoon full of flax seeds.
Flax seeds are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a hot topic that are continually referenced as one of the nutrients Americans should consume. But what exactly are omega-3s, and why are they so important?

  1. Omega-3s are fats that make up the outer layer of many cells, including those in the brain and eyes. They form chemical messengers that travel throughout the body and work to both stop inflammation and to produce anti-inflammatory signals.
  2. This double-whammy served up by omega-3s is important because inflammation is a major cause of many chronic diseases, including heart disease, arthritis and asthma. Inflammation is promoted by many common foods and behaviors: Refined sugars and grains (think white sugar and white flour), alcohol, stress, chemicals and allergens all increase inflammation. Reducing the amount of inflammation in your body helps prevent damage to cells so they function at their best.
  3. Increasing your intake of omega-3s is a healthy and easy way to use your food as medicine to combat inflammation. Flax seeds and walnuts are two excellent sources of omega-3s, as are their oils. The oils are sensitive to damage from heat, so store them in the fridge. Use them to make salad dressings or drizzle them onto steamed veggies, but don’t stir-fry with them. Excellent fish sources of omega-3s include salmon, herring and trout, as well as shellfish such as oysters.

— Meghan Boucher, dietetic intern, and Debra Boutin, MS, RD, chair and dietetic internship director, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University.

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