Since Heart month is upon us, this post will explore the benefits of essential healthy fats in the prevention of heart disease and regulation of a healthy heart. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are fats that we need to get from food since our bodies can’t produce them. This includes Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids, both of which are polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Omega 3 fatty acids contribute to heart health by lowering blood pressure, lowering the risk of blood clots, improving heart rhythm and artery function, and delaying the buildup of plaque in arteries.1
Omega 3’s can be found in fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines. It is also found in high amounts in nuts and seeds and the oils produced by them. This includes flaxseed, chia seeds, sunflower seeds and walnuts.1
There is no recommended average daily intake for Omega 3’s. But the minimum intake to be considered adequate in adults is set at 1.1 grams for females and 1.6 grams for males.2,3 These fats fall under polyunsaturated fats on food labels, but are not distinguished further than that. So measuring one’s intake of Omega 3’s and 6’s can be difficult. An easier way to try and meet or exceed requirements is by adding more Omega 3 rich foods in your diet. The daily recommended intake of nuts and seeds on a Mediterranean diet is about 5oz/week. The American Heart Association recommends a serving (3 ounces) of cooked fish at least twice a week. A cooked serving of fish is said to be the size of a deck of cards.
Omega 6 fats also have heart health benefits, but function most effectively when in the proper ratio with Omega 3’s. The ideal ratio for Omega 6 fats to Omega 3’s is anywhere between 4:1 to 1:1, but most American diets exceed 12:1.5 Omegas 6’s are found in many oils that are prominent in the American diet, such as corn, safflower, soybean, grape seed and sunflower oils. Therefore, most people consume plenty of Omega 6’s, but are deficient in Omega 3’s. But instead of being conscious of your Omega 6 intake, focus on increasing Omega 3 foods in your diet.4,6
When consumed in the ideal ratio, Omega 6’s can lower the harmful cholesterol carriers known as low density lipoproteins (LDL). The LDL take cholesterol into the arteries where it contributes to fatty build ups. It may also increase high density lipoproteins (HDL) which carry cholesterol out of the blood stream.7
To summarize, Omega 3 and 6 fats are essential and must be obtained by our diets. While they have many functions, when they are consumed in the right ratio, they have a wide range of benefits, especially for cardiovascular health.
Chia Seed Oat Pudding
Great as a snack or for breakfast!
- ¼ cup of chia seeds
- 1 cup of rolled oats
- 2 cups of water, milk or milk alternative
- Optional sweetener such as a teaspoon of maple syrup or honey per serving
- Optional flavorings such as cinnamon, cocoa powder or citrus. Add chopped up fruits, like bananas and strawberries, nuts and seeds for added texture, taste and nutrients.
Mix it all together in a sealable container and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour before eating. If you prefer a smoother consistency it can be blended. This recipe makes 2 1/3 cups or 18 ounces of pudding. Each serving is ½ cup. This recipe is high in Omega 3’s and fiber, making it heart healthy!
Nutrition Facts (1/2 cup): Total Calories: 131, Total Fat: 4.7g (most of which is Omega 3 fats!), Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 4mg, Total Carbohydrate: 20.9g, Dietary Fiber: 5.7g, Total Sugars: 5.9g, Protein 4.6g
Written by: Nava Lavine, Dietetic Student, Santa Monica College
Reviewed by: Katelyn Tran, MPH, RD, CNSC
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