The Top 5 Food Do’s & Don’t’s Affecting Heart Disease Risk

American Heart Association

American Heart Association

In 2012, 45.4% of all heart disease deaths could be attributed to inadequate intake of certain foods, according to a recently published study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

We’ve known for decades that what you eat significantly affects heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, hemorrhages, diabetes, and inflammation. These results were based on a variety of different kinds of studies – epidemiologic, prospective, and clinical trials – set out to quantify the effect of specific foods on heart disease deaths.

The Intake of These Top 5 Foods, In Order of Predominance, Affect Your Heart Most Dramatically

1. High Sodium: Sodium, usually eaten in the form of salt, which is half sodium, pulls fluid into your blood vessels. This extra fluid increases the force of the blood against artery walls, reducing the flow of blood to your organs, making it harder for your heart to pump the blood efficiently, and damaging your heart. This excess force (or “pressure”) stresses the artery walls, potentially causing tears, blood clots, aneurysms and strokes. The recommendation is to take in less than 2,300 mg daily. Most Americans eat at least double that.

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2. Low Nuts and Seeds: Epidemiological studies have found for decades that nut and seed eaters around the world have fewer heart attacks. The oil in nuts contains nutrients which seem to have a positive impact on heart function and increases good cholesterol, which helps prevent bad cholesterol from clogging the arteries. Also, studies show nuts and seeds help keep body weight down, a major risk factor for heart disease. Eat 2 ounces per day for maximum effect.

3. High Processed Meats: Processed meats such as hot dogs, bacon, sausage, bologna and ham are a major sodium source. They’re also usually high in saturated fats, which increase bad cholesterol.  Since they are the highest dietary factor correlated with cancer, this gives you another reason to minimize processed meats. But when on the occasions that you might eat them, to minimize potential damage, pair with foods high in potassium and antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables. Potassium and antioxidants may help neutralize the effects of sodium and the chemicals used in meat processing.

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4. Low Omega-3-Fatty Acid Fish: Omega-3-Fatty Acids help prevent heart disease in many ways. They prevent irregular heart beat, reduce fatty placques inside artery walls, decrease blood clotting, tryglycerides (blood fats), increase good cholesterol and decrease inflammation. The American Heart Association recommends eating about 12 ounces of fatty fish weekly.

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5. Low Fruit and Vegetables: Fruits and vegetables have many qualities responsible for the reduction of heart disease risk. They are high in potassium, which helps neutralize the effect of sodium on blood volume by pulling fluid from the arteries, reducing the blood’s pressure on the artery walls. They are high in water content, which studies show helps you feel more full with fewer calories, thus aiding weight loss (high body fat is the primary controllable risk factor for heart disease). Health authorities at the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend 5 cups of fruits and/or vegetables daily. They should comprise at least half of the volume on your plates.

BODY FAT – It’s Not Just A Matter Of Appearance

Body Fat – It’s Not Just A Matter Of Appearances
It Can Also Be Toxic

We used to think that body fat was inert. But new research has found that fat tissue produces toxic chemicals, causing inflammation, oxidation, insulin resistance, and cancer-promoting cell growth caused by an increased level of “growth factors.” These chemicals circulate through the body and correlate with many cancers (including aggressive prostate, breast, and colon cancers), heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, muscle weakness, bone loss and other disastrous conditions. Why? But, more importantly:

But, Take Heart! Even if you’re overweight, there are many things you can do to improve your odds of avoiding these diseases! Read on…


Inflammation, caused by excess body fat among other things, contributes to illnesses which are chronic, costly, and corrode our quality of life. Inflammation is a silent killer. You don’t see it or even feel it until after many years when it blossoms into full-blown diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, muscle weakness or bone loss.

How could inflammation contribute to so many seemingly unrelated illnesses? Inflammation is your natural defense against disease-causing pathogens and it can happen anywhere in your body. When you cut your finger and it becomes red, swollen and painful, that’s inflammation at work. It’s your body’s way of fighting infection and it’s a lifesaver. Once healing begins, inflammation ceases and the body resumes normal functioning.  But that immune response – which is constantly on patrol preventing diseases throughout our body, in our blood vessels and organs – can be a double-edged sword. Sometimes, it doesn’t shut down and inflammation becomes chronic. In the blood vessels, inflammation causes fatty plaque to rupture, form blood clots and leads to heart attack or stroke.

Inflammation may also contribute to insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes. And emerging research is finding that inflammation may produce genetic mutations which cause and spread cancer. It’s even a culprit in weakening muscular strength and reducing bone mass as we age. There is also evidence that in the brain, inflammation attacks nerve cells, and may contribute to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  The cause of chronic inflammation can be genetic or environmental. Scientists have found that excess body fat, a sedentary lifestyle, eating a poor diet, smoking, and high blood pressure, all increase various inflammatory biomarkers and contribute to chronic inflammation and disease.

Your doctor may be able to measure your level of inflammation with a test measuring your blood’s “C-Reactive Protein” or CRP.


What exactly is oxidation?  Oxidation, caused by excess body fat among other things, is similar to rusting. An example of oxidation is an apple slice turning brown when exposed to air (oxygen). But simply adding lemon or any citrus juice, an antioxidant, keeps the apple’s flesh fresh, and prevents the browning or oxidation from occurring. Our bodies are constantly “rusting” or experiencing oxidation. Oxidation is responsible for many of the conditions of aging including, but not limited to, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, bone loss, muscle weakness, neurological impairments affecting cognition and balance.

Oxidation is constantly occurring in your cells due to excess body fat, unhealthy diets, environmental pollutants, smoking, the sun, the heat generated through basic metabolic functioning/digestion, and other factors. It takes a large supply of antioxidant-rich foods, and regular amounts at every meal, to counter this.

High Glucose and Insulin

Excess body fat causes high glucose and insulin in your blood stream. High glucose has serious consequences for your cardiovascular system, can lead to blindness, kidney disease, impotence, and is a precurser to diabetes. High insulin levels are associated with heart attack and colon cancer, uncontrolled cell growth and their “growth factors” contributing to various cancers and other diseases.

What To Do About Body Fat?

Exercise Type: Many people believe that a hard work-out in the gym will lead to weight loss: NOT! I have so many clients who have done this for years and their fat hasn’t budged. You’ve seen them in the gym yourself: People who’ve come in year after year after year, and they’re still as overweight now as they were when they started. I know it’s frustrating. Just ask Joe, Elizabeth and Grace. They’re major athletes. Elizabeth is a champion rower, Grace is close to being a pro tennis player, and Joe “works out more intensely than men half his age!” So, what gives?

While strength training and yoga are wonderful for your body and mind, they do very little toward losing weight, no matter how hard your workout is. You need cardiovascular exercise – simply moving – to lower body fat. What do I mean by moving? Walking is ideal! Yes, simply walking. I and all my clients use pedometers to determine if we’re getting enough cardiovascular activity, or walking, daily.

My goal for weight and health maintenance is about 10,000 steps daily (average). That’s about 5 miles or 1.5 hours accumulated through the day. If you want to lose weight, usually it takes about 12,000 steps. If you’re in a hurry to lose weight, or want to get off – or lower – medications for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes, try 15,000 steps per day (average). It will transform your health and your life! Just ask Joe, Elizabeth and Grace – who have lost body fat for the first time in years – and are now true believers in simply WALKING!

Are YOU dangerouly overweight? Find out with my 8 simple steps…

Minimizing the Damage if You Are Overweight

Cardiovascular activity seems to be, by all accounts, the fountain of youth! It naturally clears glucose from your bloodstream and that keeps insulin levels low. It lowers blood pressure, clears fat and bad cholesterol quickly and efficiently after meals, and increases good cholesterol, thus reducing your risk for heart disease. People who are more active have less disease and live longer. Although obesity increases the risk for insulin resistance and type II diabetes, a study reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine  showed that cardiovascularly fit obese people with a BMI above 27 cut their diabetes rate in half.  The study showed even obese people received an independent effect from exercise.

Nutrition: Eat plenty of antioxidant-rich and ant-inflammatory foods. Eat in a way which minimizes blood sugar and insulin spikes, and cholesterol clogging your arteries.

To accomplish this, eat more

Antioxidant-Rich and Anti-Inflammatory Foods: Plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains should be eaten at each meal to counteract the negative effects of oxidation and inflammation. Berries and Deep Green Leafy Vegetables have been found to have some of the highest antioxidant scores of all fruits and vegetables. But every fruit and vegetable will provide healthy anti-oxidants and health benefits. Supplement your diet with nuts, fresh olive  oil, tea, and consistent, small amounts of alcohol.

Anti-inflammatory Foods, such as…
The omega 3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, found in fish, are the compounds most consistently found to reduce inflammation. It’s been confirmed in large observational studies as well as controlled clinical intervention trials that fish and fish oil reduce heart disease by decreasing inflammation, arrhythmia, blood clotting, CRP and other inflammatory markers. High fish diets have also been found to reduce the incidence of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Marine-derived omega-3’s may also reduce cancer risk, arthritis, asthma, psoriasis, and other inflammatory diseases.

Flax Seeds and Walnuts: New research has found that the plant version of omega-3 fatty acids, ALA, found in flax seeds, walnuts, and canola oil reduce inflammation. A clinical intervention study published in the Journal of Nutrition found ALA reduces multiple cardiovascular disease risk factors, including the reduction of CRP and other inflammatory markers. The researchers also found that as CRP lowered, good (HDL) cholesterol increased, a double benefit and an added protection from heart disease.

Vitamins E and C-rich foods: A study found that supplementation with vitamins E and C reduced inflammatory markers and improved asthma, an inflammatory condition, in children. Vitamin E is high in nuts, seeds, and oils, especially wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds, and almonds. Vitamin C is high in fruits and vegetables, especially strawberries, oranges, cantaloupe, tomato juice, mangos, cauliflower, broccoli and sweet potatoes. Another study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that when people ate regular doses of vegetable soup causing high vitamin C levels in their blood, biomarkers of inflammation decreased.

Fruits and Vegetables: Food high in antioxidants play an important anti-inflammatory role since oxidation is part of the inflammatory process.  Studies show people who eat diets low in antioxidants – that is, low in fruits and vegetables – have more inflammatory diseases, like heart disease, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, dementia and Alzheimer’s.

The Mediterranean Diet:  A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people eating a Mediterranean style diet had significantly reduced CRP and other inflammatory biomarkers. They also had reduced insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes. The Mediterranean diet group ate at least nine to eleven ounces of fruit, four to six ounces of vegetables, one to two ounces of walnuts, 14 ounces of whole grains or legumes daily, and increased their consumption of olive oil. While the control group ate the same level of carbohydrates, protein and fat, they didn’t eat as much complex carbohydrates, fiber or olive oil and ate more saturated fat and cholesterol.

Vegetarian Diets: A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that long term vegetarians had markedly lower CRP levels (and their blood vitamin C levels were higher).

Eat less…

Reducing refined sugar, sweets and flour will help reduce blood sugar and insulin

Red meat and processed meats are correlated with heart disease and various cancers

Additional Behaviors for Minimizing the Damage of Being Overweight

Keep calories at low but healthy levels while still feeling full (in Diet Simple you can determine your personalized calorie needs). Increase consumption of high- fiber, high-water- containing, nutrient- dense, low-calorie foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Reduce consumption of nutrient-poor, calorie- dense processed and refined foods such as chips, crackers and sweets.

Overall Calorie Reduction:  Calorie restriction reduces oxidation, a contributor to inflammation. Calorie restriction also reduces inflammatory markers.

Ideally, Lose Body Fat. It will reduce oxidation, inflammation, negative hormone levels, cancer-promoting growth factors and cell proliferation. Most scientists will agree that weight loss is probably the most effective way to reduce inflammation, oxidation and cancer-promoting cellular proliferation. We used to believe that body fat was inert. But new research has found that adipose tissue produces pro-inflammatory compounds which may help explain why obesity is correlated with heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and other inflammatory diseases.

Nutrition for Maximizing Brain & Heart Health – Monday at Woodmont Country Club

Most people know that nutrition is crucial for heart health, even if the specifics are sometimes a bit confusing. But very few people realize just how important nutrition is for brain health, and that the two intersect quite nicely.

My clients regularly ask me: Do certain foods affect my brain? My answer: Yes! What you eat profoundly affects the brain, memory, and mental function. And – lucky for us – scientific research confirms brain and heart health benefit from similar foods, nutrients and behaviors (Read my article, “Maximizing Brain Health Do’s and Don’ts). Katherine will discuss state-of-the-art knowledge of how you can maximize your brain and heart health through nutrition at the First Annual “Go Red For Women Wellness Symposium” at the Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Maryland on Monday, May 29.

Go Red For Women® celebrates the energy, passion and power we have as women to band together to wipe out heart disease and stroke.

The American Heart Association cordially invites you to the
First Annual Go Red for Women Wellness Symposium
in conjunction with the 29th Annual Golf Tournament

Monday, April 29, 2013
10:00 am – 2:00 pm
Woodmont Country Club
Rockville, MD

 Explore and celebrate your health and well-being at the First Annual Go Red for Women’s Wellness Symposium. Join other strong women from across DC, Maryland and Virginia for a powerful, meaningful day to join forces, raise funds for the American Heart Association, and commit to ending heat disease and stroke – the number one killer of women.

Learn how heart disease affects a family and how you can help stop heart disease in our lifetime, while experiencing new ways to nurture your body, mind and spirit in a relaxing and welcoming atmosphere for women of all ages. Choose three expert-led workshops from an array of dynamic topics including healthy cooking, nutrition, fitness, weight loss, beauty and happiness.

The day ends with a heart-healthy lunch, keynote speaker, and inspirational survivor story.

Schedule (Subject to Change)


10:30AMSession One

Julia Miles-Davis: Image Consultant
Katherine Tallmadge, MA, RD: Nutritionist, Author of “Diet Simple,” President of Personalized Nutrition

11:15AMSession Two

Celebrity Chef Huda: Heart-Healthy Cooking Demonstration
Debra Chandler, Emily Richards, and Caroline Adams Miller: Moderated by Kathy Wilson: You First – Health, Wealth and Happiness with a Panel of  Experts

NoonSession Three

Debi Bevins: Zumba!
Antonisha Bennett: CPR Training and Blood Pressure Screening

12:45PMHeart-healthy Lunch & Keynote Speaker

Michelle Albert, Chief of Cardiovascular Medicine at Howard University Hospital: Keynote Speaker
Andrea Wongsam: Survivor

 Tickets are $100 and help the American Heart Association fund cutting edge research, conduct lifesaving public and professional education programs, and advocate to protect public health.  For more information or to reserve tickets, please contact

Eliza Kanovsky at or 703.248.1717

Harvard Study: Fruit Reduces Diabetes Risk

Swedish Strawberries (Photo: Swedish Embassy)

People are always asking me if fruit is too high in sugar to eat, especially if you have diabetes. This fear of fruit, I believe, is leftover from the Atkins craze, making foods like fruits, and even vegetables like carrots, verboten. This is one of the most tragic consequences of this diet fad, because avoiding fruit can actually damage your health.

People who eat fruit have a lower incidence of Type 2 Diabetes, the most common form of the disease, according to a recently published Harvard study. But this study isn’t alone in its conclusions. It corroborates decades of research showing the nutritional value and health benefits of fruits.

Fruit is high in water content and fiber, which help you feel full with fewer calories. Even though it contains simple sugars and carbohydrates, most fruits have a relatively low glycemic index, that is, when you eat it, your blood sugar raises only moderately, especially when compared with refined sugar or flour products.

Fruit is loaded with nutrients scientists believe protect people from major chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and more. The potassium in fruit helps lower blood pressure and actually helps neutralize the blood pressure-raising affects of sodium.

Eating more fruits and vegetables – as high as 5 cups per day or more – is a habit which could help you stabilize and even reverse Type 2 Diabetes. Yes, it is possible!

And, the best part of fruit? It’s delicious! It’s easy to eat, to pack in your lunch box for the office or school, and it’s such a refreshing snack or dessert. What could be better?

The study:

Dietary flavonoid intakes and risk of type 2 diabetes in US men and women

Nicole M Wedick, An Pan, Aedín Cassidy, Eric B Rimm, Laura Sampson, Bernard Rosner, Walter Willett, Frank B Hu, Qi Sun, and Rob M van Dam

From the Departments of Nutrition, Epidemiology, and Biostatistics, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA; Channing Laboratory, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA; the Department of Nutrition, Norwich Medical School, University of East Anglia, Norwich, United Kingdom; and the Departments of Epidemiology and Public Health and Medicine, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, Singapore.

Supported by NIH grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.


Background: Data from mechanistic studies support a beneficial effect of specific flavonoids on insulin sensitivity. However, few studies have evaluated the relation between intakes of different flavonoid subclasses and type 2 diabetes.

Objective: The objective was to evaluate whether dietary intakes of major flavonoid subclasses (ie, flavonols, flavones, flavanones, flavan-3-ols, and anthocyanins) are associated with the risk of type 2 diabetes in US adults.

Design: We followed up a total of 70,359 women in the Nurses’ Health Study, 89,201 women in the NHS II, and 41,334 men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study who were free of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer at baseline.

Results: During 3,645,585 person-years of follow-up, we documented 12,611 incident cases of type 2 diabetes. Higher intakes of anthocyanins were significantly associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes after multivariate adjustment for age, BMI, and lifestyle and dietary factors. Consumption of anthocyanin-rich foods, particularly blueberries and apples/pears, was also associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. No significant associations were found for total flavonoid intake or other flavonoid subclasses.

Conclusion: A higher consumption of anthocyanins and anthocyanin-rich fruit was associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

Omega-3-Fatty Acids: Superstars of the Nutrition World

On CNN: Katherine Discusses 5 Good-For-You Foods to Include in Your Diet This Year!

I first became interested in the power of Omega 3 when  psychiatrists I work with began prescribing it for their depressed patients, finding it made positive improvements. Then I started hearing about its potential benefits for arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. Could it be possible that one nutrient could provide so many benefits?

The connection between Omega 3s and health was first observed in the 1970’s. Scientists observed that Greenland Eskimos had a reduced rate of heart disease, rheumatoid, arthritis and other ailments even though they ate a high fat and cholesterol diet. They hypothesized that the type of fat – marine derived – might play a role. Since then, study after study has confirmed that omega 3s in fish have a potent effect on reduction of heart disease.

Omega 3s work several ways in the heart. They prevent irregular heart beat, reduce fatty placques inside artery walls, decrease blood clotting, decrease triglycerides (blood fat), increase HDL (good cholesterol), and decrease inflammation.

“Omega 3 favorably effects a number of risk factors for cardiovascular disease and at the top of the list is reducing the risk of sudden death from heart attack,” says Penny Kris Etherton, distinguished professor of nutrition, Pennsylvania State University

But when it comes to the benefits of Omega 3’s that may be just the tip of the iceberg!

The two most potent omega 3 fatty acids are known as DHA and EPA. They’re usually found in a 50/50 or 60/40 ratio in fish. These fatty acids end up in every single cell membrane in the human body. They act as a cell lubricant, improve flexibility and communication between cells, and are important for cell metabolism and gene expression.

It’s been well-established that omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat found primarily in seafood, can improve your chances of living longer if you have heart disease. But its healing powers don’t stop there. Other organs may benefit. They have a positive impact from the womb to old age.

Omega 3’s reach is vast and the health benefits are intriguing the scientific community. While not an answer to every ailment, omega 3s are essential nutrients in the human body. Studies show that omega 3s may have significant physiological and psychological benefits.

In fact, Omega-3s are so important to human health, the National Academy of Sciences Food and Nutrition Board recently set a minimum daily requirement for the first time. For years we thought there was only one essential fatty acid, Omega 6 fatty acid (found in vegetable and soybean oils), but now scientists have added omega 3 to the list of essential nutrients humans must get from the diet.

But as we’ve discovered in nutrition, balance is everything. The two essential fatty acids, omega 6 and omega 3 must be in harmony with each other for proper functioning. If one or the other is too high or low, negative consequences result.

“If you eat too much omega 6, as is the case with today’s American diet, this promotes inflammation, blood clotting and constricts blood vessels,” says Artemis Simopoulos, president of the Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health and the author of The Omega Diet (Harper Collins, 1999) “When your cells contain equal amounts of Omega 6 and Omega 3, as was the case with early humans, this promotes less inflammation, less constrictive blood vessels and prevents clot formation, all important functions in preventing many diseases.”

The ideal ratio of omega6 to omega3 is the hottest debate among omega3 researchers. Some say a ratio of 1:1 or even 2:1 is acceptable. If you followed the fatty acid recommendations of The National Academy of Sciences, and had an intake of 12 or 17 grams of omega 6 for women and men, respectively, and an omega 3 fatty acid intake of 1.1 and 1.6 for women and men, your ratio would be 10:1. But many omega 3 researchers say a ratio of 1:1 or even 2:1 or 5:1 is ideal. If you’re a typical American, your ratio could be as high as 12:1 or 15:1. Still others believe a specific ratio doesn’t matter. But they all agree on the need to get more omega3s.

Omega 3 concentrations are highest in the brain and nervous system. They are necessary for optimal functioning of the neurons, protect cells, decrease cell death and improve nerve transmission. Emerging research indicates Omega 3s may boost levels of the brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine, decreasing depression and violence.

“In 5 out of 6 of the clinical trials where people were given either a placebo or omega-3 fatty acids, on average, the symptoms of depression have been reduced by about 50%,” says Joseph Hibbeln, a psychiatrist at the National Institutes for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “This is true even when the subjects were already on anti-depressants and failing to respond to them.”

Hibbeln’s studies found an increase in depression, violence and homicides in countries who eat less fish as compared to countries who eat more fish. It may even improve conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Bone density may be enhanced by omega 3 intake.

“Osteoporosis is lower in populations who eat more fish, such as Asians, when compared to Europeans who eat more calcium-containing foods” says Bruce A. Watkins, Ph.D., nutrition professor at Purdue University. The mechanisms aren’t completely understood, but omega 3’s may help support bone formation.

Omega 3 may also benefit the skin. The Greenland Eskimo studies found they don’t suffer much from psoriasis, a skin disease causing painful inflammation, redness and scales in its sufferers.

Laboratory studies have found that omega 3s suppress the hyperproliferation of the skin cells, which causes the disease to spread. When tested in humans, after 10 weeks, 60% of the subjects experienced a decrease in the area of psoriasis and a decrease in proliferation and inflammation.

“The dose is very essential,” says the researcher, Vincent Ziboh,Ph.D., professor, dept of dermatology, Univ of Ca at Davis. “The work is promising, but more research is needed to understand the mechanism and doses, and why it works for some but not others.”

Just as omega 3s inhibit proliferation of skin cells which causes psoriasis, new research is finding it inhibits proliferation of cancer cells in the breast, prostate and colon. This is a new area of research which hasn’t been tested widely. But, a new study found breast cancer patients responded better to chemotherapy and the cancer was less likely to spread when patients were given omega 3 fatty acids.  There is epidemiological evidence that men who eat more fish have lower risk for prostate cancer.

There is evidence that omega3s may help prevent type 2 diabetes and improve diabetes by reducing insulin resistance.

The FDA recently approved Omega 3s for infant formulas because of the overwhelming evidence that it improves cognition and visual functioning in children. (mother’s breast milk provides it naturally, especially when she regularly eats fish)

Inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease may improve with omega 3 supplementation.

The studies are just beginning. More research needs to be done to understand who will benefit most from higher levels of omega 3 in their diets. Your genetics and environment play large roles in responsiveness to omega 3s. And while studies are very promising for a wide range of illnesses, the optimal amount of omega 3 and the ideal ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 are still hotly debated in the scientific community.

But what isn’t debated is that adult women need at least 1.1 grams and adult men need 1.6 grams daily, according to the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences. Unfortunately, Americans don’t come even close to getting their omega 3 requirement. But we used to. Apparently, in our earlier evolutional stages, we ate plenty of wild greens, lean animals which grazed on high omega3 grasses, and fish high in Omega 3s, and our bodies evolved a need for it.

But today, omega 3s have largely been replaced with omega 6s, vegetables oils, especially soybean oil, which is used in large doses in processed foods and fast foods. And no longer do our animals graze on high omega 3 grasses, but on grains instead. This changes the fatty acid composition of the meat, to our detriment.

Most of the studies found a positive benefit with 500 to 1,000 mg of omega3s per day. The American Heart Association recommends all adults eat a variety of fish, particularly oily fish, at least twice weekly, which would provide an average of 500 mg daily. For patients with coronary artery disease, they recommend 1,000 mg daily, or double the seafood requirement (but never above 3,000 mg without a doctor’s supervision). Supplements are effective and may be used instead of eating the fish. Due to environmental pollutants found in fish, women of child-bearing age are recommended to keep their fish intake to no more than 12 ounces per week. But omega3 researchers believe the risk of not getting enough omega3 in your diet outweighs the potential risk of pollutants.

There are possible dangers to taking too much omega3 supplement. The inflammatory response is your immune system working, or overworking. This means that omega 3s are actually reducing your immune response when they reduce inflammation. So, large doses should be taken only with a doctor’s advice by people with compromised immune systems. There is also a slight increase in risk for hemorrhagic stroke or excessive bleeding.

As usual, I have to underscore balance.  It may be safer to stick with food sources so you don’t go overboard and are more likely to stay in balance.

There is a vegetable source of omega 3, known as ALA. It’s found in flax seed oil, walnuts, and canola oil. The omega-3 fatty acid, ALA, is one which has to be converted to DHA and EPA, which means vegetable sources are less potent than fish oil. But it’s still a great idea to include them in your diet.

Some values of Omega-3’s in 3-1/2 ounces of Fish


Fish                                         Omega-3’s (g)

Sardines in Sardine Oil           3.3

Atlantic Mackerel                   2.5

Atlantic herring                       1.6

Chinook Salmon                     1.4

Anchovy                                 1.4

Atlantic Salmon                      1.2

Tuna                                        0.5

Brook Trout                            0.4

Catfish                                                0.3

Shrimp                                     0.3

Flounder                                  0.2

Found in: S.L. Conner and W.E. Conner, “Are Fish Oils Beneficial in the Prevention and Treatment of Coronary Artery Disease?” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 66 (1997); 1020S – 1031S.

“Understanding Omega-3s” by Katherine Tallmadge, originally appeared in The Washington Post.

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