Omega-3s Linked to Heart Health, According to a Cardiologist | Well+Good

TTake a look at the supplement aisle shelves at your local health food store or pharmacy, and you’ll no doubt be assaulted by a seemingly endless supply of bottles boasting ‘More than 100 percent of your daily recommended omega-3 fatty acids’ ‘ with ‘No fish oil aftertaste!’

Let’s get straight to the point: omega-3 fatty acids are not overrated. Rather, they are a key component in a healthy diet and come with many science-backed benefits for your heart health, brain healthand longevity. But before you splurge in the supplement aisle, know that omega-3s are found in a number of nutritious foods. In fact, they’re one of the many reasons doctors and health experts recommend consuming certain types of fatty fish, like salmon and other fatty fish, and other common superfoods, like chia seeds and walnuts.

Yes still not sure exactly what omega-3s are and how they are related to cardiovascular health (especially as you age), rest assured you’re not alone. To help clarify some of your questions and gain a better understanding of why exactly this particular compound, we spoke with the cardiologist Susanna SteinbaumMD, American Heart Association’s volunteer medical expert turn red for women movement.

What are omega-3 fatty acids?

“Simply put, omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid that are necessary for maintaining healthy body function, specifically cell membrane function,” says Dr. Steinbaum. There are three key forms of omega-3 fatty acids: EPA and DHA, which are often found in fatty fish; and ALA, which is most commonly found in nuts and seeds. “In addition to their role in cell walls, they also serve as a source of energy and help maintain the function of the heart, lungs, blood vessels and immune system.”

How are omega-3s related to heart health?

While omega-3s offer many benefits for gut health, brain health, skin care, and more, cardiologists often tout this nutrient as especially crucial for heart health. “Omega-3 fatty acids are considered ‘essential’ fats, which means that our body does not produce omega-3 on its own. But because we still need them, we must get them from food sources,” says Dr. Steinbaum. “Studies have shown that omega-3s can help lower blood pressure and triglycerides, also known as the fat in your blood. Additionally, omega-3s may help increase longevity by warding off certain diseases. There is evidence to suggest that they can reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and deaths from heart disease.”

The best food sources of omega-3

Now that we know how long-term consumption of omega-3-rich foods stimulates the cardiovascular system, we obviously wonder how much we should be consuming to reap the benefits. “There is no standard recommended guideline for omega-3 intake, but eating at least two servings of fatty fish per week is suggested,” says Dr. Steinbaum. “These fatty fish can include tuna, sardines, mackerel, trout, herring, or of course salmon. Other key sources of omega-3s include olive oil, walnuts, avocado, chia seeds, and flaxseeds.”

You can also try some of these delicious Omega-3-Packed Breakfast Recipesincluding the chia seed pudding and vegan banana bread shown in this video:

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So… Should You Consider Omega-3 Supplements?

Despite the high presence of omega-3 in fish and other naturally fatty plant foods, Dr. Steinbaum notes that omega-3 is variably absorbed. “As a result, the best way to ensure you’re getting enough omega-3s is to monitor your levels. If your levels are low, then your doctor can recommend supplements if needed,” he says, stating that he should be sure to speak with a doctor or dietitian before introducing any new supplements into his routine.

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