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Diet & Nutrition

The essential fat

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They are promoted on some food products, available as supplements and mentioned in magazine articles and television advertisements. Your doctor may have even suggested that you eat more of them. But do you really understand omega-3 fats and why they are important in our diets? And if you don't eat fish, can you get enough?
Fats — the good and the bad Fats are categorised into different groups: saturated, trans, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. No food is completely one type of fat, but foods are classed according to the main type of fat they contain.
Omega-3 fats — the benefits Omega-3 fats are essential in our diets. This means that since omega-3s have many important roles in our bodies, we need to eat them regularly as our body cannot make them. There are long-chain (EPA, DPA, DHA) and short-chain omega-3s (ALA). Research shows that omega-3s can protect our heart, improve insulin sensitivity in people with diabetes, help with mental health conditions and in the management of rheumatoid arthritis.
Omega-3 food sources Current research shows that it is the long chain omega-3s EPA, DPA and DHA that provide us with the most health benefits. These long-chain fats are found mainly in fish and seafood with the richest sources being oily fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines, and smaller amounts found in eggs and foods especially enriched with long-chain omega-3s.
But, I don't eat fish! Are there other food sources? Yes — there are other foods that contain omega-3. Canola oil and margarines, walnuts, linseeds and linseed oil, soybeans and beverages enriched with omega-3, dark green vegetables, as well as some fortified food products, are all sources.
The omega- 3 fat in these plant food sources is known as ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which is a short-chain fat, and they are then converted by the body to the long-chain omega-3s.
Tips to increase your omega-3s
  • A simple stir-fry with plenty of green leafy vegetables and firm tofu.
  • Snack on green soybeans, also own as edamame (available frozen from Asian supermarkets).
  • Pack some dried fruit and walnuts as a mid-morning or afternoon snack.
  • Ground linseeds are a great addition to homemade muesli or muffins. You could also toss a tablespoon over your morning breakfast cereal.
  • Use an omega-3 fortified soymilk in place of dairy milk in fruit smoothies, with breakfast cereal and in hot drinks.
  • Use baby spinach leaves in place of lettuce in salads and sandwiches.
  • Choose canola oil or margarines for cooking or spreads instead of polyunsaturated varieties.
  • Add canned soybeans to tomato based pasta sauces, casseroles and curries.
  • Use linseed oil in homemade salad dressings.
  • Stir baby spinach through scrambled eggs and serve on soy and linseed bread for a simple weekend breakfast.
  • If you eat fish, the National Heart Foundation recommends at least two fish meals (preferably oily fish) per week. You could try canned fish in salads, pasta or sandwiches or simply steam, barbecue, grill or bake whole fish fillets.
  • Look out for omega-3 enriched foods in your supermarket.
    Brought to you by The Sanitarium Nutrition Service, www.sanitarium.com.au

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