The health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids

Nutrition team

Although scientists aren’t yet sure exactly why the Mediterranean diet is beneficial to health, one aspect of the diet, which has been examined recently, is the high intake of fish. Fish is healthy because it’s a low- fat, high-protein food. However, experts believe that the real benefit of eating fish is for heart health because of the oils in the fish. These are known as omega-3 fatty acids. These can’t be made in the body and must be provided by the diet.

Omega-3 fatty acids and heart health

It seems that eating oily fish like herring, mackerel, salmon, tuna and trout regularly, can protect you by preventing sudden irregular beating of the heart. This may lead to a heart attack. The most recent research on fish and heart disease shows that even eating fish once a week can make a difference.

The mechanism for their effect on risk of heart disease is still unclear. It is thought not to involve reduction in blood cholesterol. It may be because the very long chain omega-3 fatty acids lower blood triglyceride (circulating fat) concentrations both while fasting and after a meal. A high triglyceride concentration, particularly after eating, is now recognised as being associated with the development of heart disease.

Omega-3 fatty acids and brain development

The long chain omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexanoic acid (DHA) is a major constituent of both the human brain and retina of the eye. As a result, this has been the focus of much of the research into the growth of infants in the womb and the development of new-borns, particularly pre-term babies. It has also given rise to concern regarding the adequacy of the diet of pregnant and breast-feeding women. The long-term results are unknown as yet. Further research is required to determine whether the amount omega-3 fatty acid of a babies diet may have long-term consequences on eye and brain development.

So, next time you’re out shopping use your brain and kick-start your mind by picking up some fish, fresh, frozen or canned.

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