If you haven't heard all the buzz surrounding omega-3 fatty acids and their arsenal of health benefits in recent years, then, sorry, but you must be living under a rock. It seems like every week a new study comes out extolling these essential fats' role in keeping cholesterol in check, boosting brain power, bolstering bones, and more. And then there's perhaps omega-3s' most significant, best-studied benefit: They're thought to protect your heart from damage, disease, and even failure.
Now here's even more heart health–supporting evidence – and these findings are pretty tough to ignore. A new meta-analysis published in Clinical Nutrition examined the results of seven studies involving 175,000 people – that's a gigantic sample size in science world – to determine that people with the highest blood levels of the omega-3s DHA and EPA had a 14 percent lower risk of heart failure than those with the lowest. What's more, people who ate the most fish, a prime source of omegas, had 15 percent less risk.
Even though heart failure may not be top of your mind today, jumping on the omega-3 train now will prime your body's defenses for later – and score you many other perks in the meantime. "Disease prevention – heart disease, along with cancer and other degenerative disorders – is the main reason to start increasing omega-3 consumption early," says Jim White, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "But in addition, every guy approaching middle age should get more omega-3s because that's the time of life when wear and tear to the body begins to reveal itself. Since omega-3s are an anti-inflammatory, they protect your joints and alleviate delayed-onset muscle soreness. They also improve protein synthesis after a workout and make you more insulin responsive, which helps keep you lean."
Sounds like a sweet deal. And luckily, upping omega-3 intake is easy. "Guys can absolutely get enough omega-3s from food alone," White says. "Aim for somewhere between 1.6 grams and 3 grams each day."
As for the best sources, White says flaxseeds and flaxseed oil top the list, walnuts are a close second, and salmon, soybeans, halibut, scallops, shrimp, tofu, and tuna round out the roster. He adds that vegetarians and non–fish eaters looking for additional options should also check out chia seeds and pumpkinseeds, both of which deliver decent doses of omega-3s.
Even though there's strong evidence that eating omega-3-rich food is more beneficial than getting the fatty acids from supplements, according to White, popping a fish oil capsule or taking a spoonful of the liquid is a quick, easy way to boost omega-3 intake.
Fish oils can range quite a bit in quality, however, so you have to read product labels to make sure you're selecting a sound supplement. White offers these tips:
- The label must specify the type of fish that comprises the oil – salmon, tuna, sardines, and anchovies are best.
- Make sure it's not solely fish oil and that it contains omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA.
- The label should list the total amount of DHA and EPA, which should add up to the total amount of oil in the product. If not, the company has added a bunch of fillers.
- Look for a 2-to-1 ratio of DHA to EPA; shoot for 600 mg of DHA and 300 mg of EPA.
Be wary of toxins, heavy metals, and pesticides. The manufacturer should state on the label that its product has been health screened and can offer a 100 percent pure guarantee.