Top Five Ways to Get Clients to Eat More Omega-3s
By Carol Meerschaert, MBA, RD
It’s common knowledge that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation, can lower blood pressure, help prevent heart disease, and play a crucial role in brain growth and development. You know fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel are great sources.
But here’s a bit of news on omega-3s you may not have heard.
Researchers are examining the relationship between omega-3 fats and mental illness. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study published online in July in Brain Behavior and Immunity found that patients receiving omega-3 fatty acid supplements showed a 20% reduction in anxiety compared with the placebo group. In the February 2010 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial that examined a group of mentally ill patients at risk for developing psychotic disorder found omega-3 supplements significantly lowered their risk: two of 41 participants (4.9%) who took omega-3 supplements developed psychotic disorder vs. 11 of the 40 subjects (27.5%) in the placebo group.
Theresa Wright, MS, RD, LDN, of Renaissance Nutrition Center, Inc in East Norriton, Pa., encourages her clients to change the type of fats they choose. “When my clients increase their intake of omega-3 fats, especially fatty fish like salmon, their mood improves.” Wright says this increases their motivation to stick with the eating plan she’s created for them.
In a study in the July issue of Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, Gajos and colleagues gave coronary artery disease patients omega-3 fatty acid supplements combined with two blood-thinning agents for one month. After treatment, researchers discovered that this combination significantly changed the blood-clotting process and may reduce the risk of heart attack.
To ensure clients get more omega-3s into their diet, follow these top five tips:
1. Munch on plant sources. Everyone cites fatty fish as an omega-3 source, but clients need to know other sources exist. Many plant foods are rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fat that’s a precursor to EPA, the form of omega-3 found in fish oils. So encourage clients to eat dark leafy greens like collards and kale. They’re also good sources of calcium, fiber, vitamin A, and phytochemicals. Greens tend to be inexpensive, so they’re a welcome low-cost, high-nutrient food.
Walnuts are another good source. Yes they’re high in fat, but they’re also high in protein and make a wonderful crunchy addition to foods from oatmeal to salads.
Flaxseeds are also rich in ALA. They’re found in many commercial baked goods such as bread, crackers, and tortilla chips. They’re best served freshly ground as they can be hard to digest. You can grind these tiny seeds in a coffee grinder and store them in an airtight container in the freezer. Sprinkle ground flaxseeds on salads, hot or cold cereal, and even casseroles to add not only omega-3 fat but also fiber and phytochemicals.
2. Go for fortified. Supermarket shelves are stocked with numerous foods fortified with omega-3 fats from eggs to orange juice, and milk to bread. Most of the omega-3s are supplied through fish oil. These foods provide a great way for clients to get small but steady amounts of omega-3 fats into their diet. Research has found that the omega-3 fats in fortified foods offer the same bioavailability as omega-3 fats in fish oil supplements.1
3. Strike a balance. It’s best to reduce omega-6 fatty acid intake to reap the benefits of an omega-3–rich diet. Omega-3 and omega-6 compete for enzymes involved in their desaturation. Most people get far too much omega-6 fat, as this type of fat is abundant in cooking oil, processed foods, fried foods, and what naturally occurs in peanuts and soy. Instruct clients to limit their omega-6 intake to no more than 3% to 5% of total calories. That means reducing or eliminating fried foods and vegetable oil-laden fare.
4. Hit the switch. Suggest clients substitute oils high in omega-6 (eg, corn, peanut, safflower, and sesame oils) for canola or olive oil. They can use walnut or flaxseed oils for making salad dressings, which are high in omega-3s. And they can blend these oils in butter or margarine to create an omega-3–rich spread.
5. Pop a supplement. If clients fall short of eating enough omega-3–rich foods, even after adding naturally occurring and fortified foods to their diets, suggest they take a 1 g supplement of fish oil daily.
Recommend an omega-3 supplement that’s extracted from marine algae if clients have allergies, eat a vegetarian diet, complain of fishy burps, or express concerns about the environment.2
Tell clients that the secret to good health isn’t to eliminate fat but to choose their fat wisely and consume it in moderation. Another tip: The majority of your fat should come from whole foods, not refined from a bottle.
— Carol Meerschaert, MBA, RD, is a marketing professional and writer in Paoli, Pa.
• International Omega-3 Learning and Education Consortium for Health and Medicine funded by the University of Connecticut
• Tufts University List of Omega-3 Fats in Foods
1. Wallace JM, McCabe AJ, Robson PJ, et al. Bioavailability of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) in foods enriched with microencapsulated fish oil. Ann Nutr Metab. 2000;44(4):157-162.
2. King's College London. New sustainable plant source of omega-3. Science Daily. 2007;March 31. Available at: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/070330231448.htm