Heart ailments on the rise: Why you need omega-3 in your diet
It is increasingly getting clear that this miracle nutrient is "tailor-made" to beat all twenty-first century blues.
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Is omega-3 your heart's best friend?
It definitely seems so. In fact I am amazed at how omega-3 has gone on to become a super-super nutrient from being almost a nonentity even a decade or so back. And what actually gladdens my nutritionist heart is that new research is still opening up many more of its health benefits. It's almost like a magic trick, where someone has suddenly whipped up a wonder cure-all from thin air and gifted it to us on a platter (pun intended).
Omega-3 plays a significant role in fending off increasingly common illnesses such as asthma, arthritis and depression.
Can a single nutrient be "that good"? Let's find out.
It is increasingly getting clear that this miracle nutrient is "tailor-made" to beat all twenty-first century blues. It helps keep the body free of heart disease and diabetes, plays a significant role in fending off increasingly common illnesses such as asthma, arthritis, depression, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and even certain types of cancer, and that's not all, this miracle nutrient can also give you a facelift by smoothening dry skin.
But as it's World Heart Day on September 29 and we are clearly facing a heart disease epidemic in the country, so I am going to focus on how omega-3 helps our heart stay in the pink. I am concerned because increasingly this lifestyle disease is getting younger and younger and heart attacks in those still in their twenties and thirties are getting more and more common. A far cry from the days when you only worried about heart attacks when you crossed fifties.
How omega-3 helps?
Omega-3 works on multiple fronts. It helps:
a) Lower blood pressure by inhibiting the body's production of certain substances that contribute to the narrowing of blood vessels.
b) Prevent blood platelets from clumping together and forming dangerous blood clots that can be a cause of heart attack and stroke.
c) Strengthen the heart's pumping rhythm and thus decrease risk of arrhythmias, which can lead to sudden cardiac death.
d) Reduce triglyceride levels - bad cholesterol or blood fats that in decrease the growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque that leads to narrowing of arteries.
e) Build powerful hormone like substances called eicosanoids that help regulate inflammation, blood clotting, and constriction of blood vessels.
So that's all angles covered. Now research has also found that it improves chances of surviving a heart attack too as omega-3s can block dangerous and erratic changes in heart rhythm, known as arrhythmia, that sometimes occur after a heart attack.
Get your dose of omega-3
The idea is to replace foods rich in saturated and trans fats with foods rich in omega-3. There are two ways to get it. Ideal is to get it from fatty fish because they directly deliver EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), two types of omega-3 without which our immune, inflammatory, cardiovascular, and nervous systems can simply pack up. So go for:
Packed with omega-3s, it is also a good source of B vitamins, which can help improve your energy levels and keep hair, nails and skin healthy.
Choose fresh mackerel rather than smoked or tinned. The smoking process destroys some of the nutrients and canned mackerel has lower levels of omega-3s. It is also a good source of selenium, which reduces risk of cancer and protects against heart disease, as well as vitamins B6 and B12.
It is ahead of trout and mackerel in the amount of omega-3 it delivers, and is also packed with vitamins A and D, plus the B vitamins.
Other sources are: Black pomfret, Surmayi, Singhara, Hilsa, Rohu and Shellfish - although high in cholesterol, the benefits of omega-3 far outweigh it.
But if you hate fish or are a strict vegetarian then you need to score higher concentrations of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), the omega-3 found in vegetarian sources, as this gets converted to EPA and DHA in the body. Two of its best sources are walnuts and flax seeds; chia seeds, dates, mustard seeds and soya deliver some too.
So if you are a non-vegetarian try to have fish twice a week, otherwise a daily handful of walnuts or one to two tablespoons of freshly ground flaxseed per day are important to meet the requirement. You could also eat sea weeds regularly, as they are the only vegetarian source which deliver DHA and EPA. Whatever you do, for the sake of your heart, get enough omega-3.