Fish oils are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids; a good reason to heed the advice of the American Heart Association and eat fatty fish at least twice a week. Research has shown that people with known heart disease who consume the recommended amounts of fish oil supplements or fish can lower blood triglycerides, reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, and slow the build up of plaque in the arteries. Even your blood pressure may be slightly lowered. Fatty fish (such as mackerel, salmon, albacore tuna, and lake trout) does not contain the high levels of saturated fat that fatty meat products do. Instead, it contains two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenioc acid (DHA). You can also find fish oil as a supplement in capsule form.
What to Look For:
Since most research studies have shown the benefit of both EPA and DHA, it is a good idea to choose a fish oil supplement that contains both. When choosing a supplement, be sure that the company is reputable and uses a quality source of fish oil that is free of environmental contaminants. The benefits in lowering heart disease risk have been shown with fish capsules containing from 0.5 to 1.8 grams of EPA/DHA, but check with your physician before adding a supplement to your diet. It also can thin your blood.
If you do not consider yourself a fish eater, you may be surprised at how delicious fatty fish choices are. When buying fish at the market there are several things to look for. Fish should be refrigerated or displayed on a thick bed of ice (no melting) and preferably in a case. Fish should not smell strongly “fishy,” but should have a fresh and mild smell. If buying a whole fish, look for clear eyes, firm and shiny flesh, and bright red gills. Avoid fish with slime near the gills and fish that looks dull.
Frozen fish is another option. Fresh catches are processed and flash-frozen immediately, usually right on the fishing boat. Be sure the package is free from damage, has been stored in the freezer and, if its cover is transparent, does not contain any frost crystals.
What to Avoid:
Since dietary supplements are not well regulated it can be easy to take higher doses than you need, so the best strategy to getting more fish oil in your diet is to eat fatty fish. While most fish on the market is generally recognized safe, there is some concern of mercury contamination in some species, such as mackerel. Most common fatty fish, such as salmon and trout, however, have been found to have very low mercury levels and are safe.
High doses of any fish oil can be harmful. High doses can cause bleeding, so you should avoid any supplement if you are on blood thinning therapy or are planning surgery. Consult your physician before taking a capsule form.
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