The Skinny on Omega-3 Fat
By this point, unless you just bought your television, computer,
and newspaper subscription last week, you've probably already heard
about omega-3 fatty acids. Nutritionists rave about them; cooks try
to include them with every meal. Even food companies are getting in
on the action (noticed any "Omega-3 enriched" products like eggs,
oils, and dairy on your store shelves lately?).
One thing very few people know, however, is why omega-3 fats are good for you. Collectively our understanding of this wonderfat rarely goes beyond "we need to eat more of it." This isn't the best course to take; you shouldn't load up on something in your diet until you know precisely why you're eating it. Did you know that omega-3 is a designation for several fatty acids, not just one? That, while it is incredibly good for you, it should be balanced by a healthy amount of omega-6? Read on to find out the skinny on this fat!
For starters, let's talk about the three major types of omega-3: alpha-lenolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). All three of these acids are polyunsaturated fats, and they're considered essential fatty acids--meaning we need them to survive, and the body can't make 'em on its own. ALA breaks down into DHA and EPA during digestion, making the latter two essential nutrients. There's been a lot of hubbub about these fats in the last few years, and with good reason.
They've been demonstrably linked to improved circulation and a reduced risk of heart disease. They reduce inflammation and improve fluidity of cell walls, lower "bad" cholesterol. Many of their effects seem related to the brain, as well. For instance, infants deprived of omega-3s while in the womb risk vision problems and nerve disorders; in another study, poor-performance children supplied with omega-3 and other essential nutrients for 15 weeks showed marked improvement in cognition and behavior.
All good things, right? Absolutely, but don't go out and load up on all those omega 3-enriched products we mentioned earlier. Since most are enriched with ALA, it's better to go directly to sources of EPA and DHA (which ALA breaks down into). Unless the packaging specifically says "enriched with EPA/DHA," forego those omega-3 eggs in favor of a DHA-rich filet of salmon. Or a cup of walnuts. Or some flaxseed--the list goes on, but these three are the greatest sources of omega-3 in our diet; a serving of flaxseed oil, for example, provides 140% of your daily value of omega-3 fat. A handful of walnuts will give you 90.8%. And a 4-oz. filet of broiled chinnook salmon will get you 83.6 percent.
Don't gobble down salmon three meals a day, though; over consumption of these fats can lead to increased bleeding, weakened immune responses, and heightened risk of stroke. In addition, don't forget to consume a certain amount of omega-6 fats--you know, the kind found in beef, dairy, that kind of thing. Omega-6 and omega-3 work in balance to keep your body healthy, strong, and in disease-repellin' shape; too little omega-6 can lead to scaly skin and weak muscles, among other creepy side effects.
Now that you know why you need omega-3, fill your bellies along with your brains by trying some of these great omega-3-filled recipes!
Salmon Sauteed Salmon with Whiskey Sauce Try a deliciously grown-up preparation for those salmon fillets.
Horseradish-Encrusted Salmon This salmon dish can either be eaten as a main course with some sides or add on top of a leaf salad for a light lunch.
Wolfgang Puck's Basil-Crusted Salmon with Tomato-Eggplant Fondue This delicious salmon's accompanying sauce is a perfect choice for summer. Being composed almost entirely of vegetables, with just a touch of olive oil, it's incredibly light and healthful -- just the thing you want to eat at this time of year, when you're thinking about getting back into your swimsuit!
Walnuts Wolfgang Puck's Winter Greens Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette, Toasted Walnuts, Orange & Warm Goat Cheese Croutons Serve this up at a wintry weekend lunch or dinner, and there's no chance your guests will gaze wistfully out the window. Their attention will be riveted right on the dining table, where it belongs.
Gorgonzola Walnut Ravioli with Sage Butter You could use any pasta here, but the ravioli named in the title makes this dish positively decadent. I got this pasta at Trader Joes, my new favorite place to shop. I'm a latecomer to the TJ party and only recently discovered how fantastic and inexpensive they are.
Apple, Carrot, Cranberry and Walnut Muffins The muffins with everything, tasty and healthy to eat.
Lemon Green Beans with Walnuts Steamed green beans tossed with butter, lemon zest, lemon juice and toasted walnuts. This is excellent with asparagus also. Pecans can be substituted for walnuts.
About the Author:
Sources: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19681540/ http://www.whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=84 http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/omega-6-000317.htm http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/omega-3-000316.htm
Jim Smylie is a long-time foodie, just-starting cook and an editor for Recipe4Living and Chew On That. He likes food, drinks, and good company