By: The Food Coach
Getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet is essential for many reasons - a healthy heart, optimal reproduction and healthy development of babies, strong cognitive function and a decreased risk of mental decline in ageing, not to mention the health of the eyes. Now Australians are able to get their required daily intake through foods enriched with a new algal vegetarian source of omega-3 DHA, a key component of the heart. a healthy diet that includes an adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids
"As far as diet is concerned, it couldn't be simpler," says Dr David Colquhoun, a member of the National Heart Foundation's Nutrition and Metabolism Committee, and Associate Professor of Medicine at University of Queensland.
"We know that omega-3 is extremely important for heart health, but 90 per cent of Australians are still not consuming the amount of the marine source omega-3s that they need for a healthy heart."
DHA Omega 3 is found throughout the body but is most concentrated in the heart, brain and eyes. DHA actually represents approximately 97 per cent of all Omega 3 fats in the brain and 93 per cent of Omega 3 fats in the retina of the eye. It is vital during pregnancy, as the developing foetus is unable to produce their own DHA and so must obtain the nutrient through the placenta in vitro and in breast milk after birth. Research also suggests that adequate levels of DHA in the mother's diet may play a role in a woman's emotional wellbeing after birth.
Strolling through the supermarket you'll notice more foods are enriched with DHA, often advertising "Rich in Omega-3" or similar slogans on their packaging. Such foods are becoming more widely available and there is now a new alternative vegetarian source of Omega-3 DHA derived directly from microalgae. Foods that may include microalgae extracts include milk, yoghurt, eggs and honey. This is great news for vegetarians who don't eat fish, or anyone who doesn't like the taste of fish or fish oils. People concerned about marine toxicity build up in the fish they consume may also choose to supplement with DHA-enriched products. Algal DHA is from a sustainable source and does not deplete ocean resources. Fish derive most of their Omega 3 content from algae, so algal DHA is essentially going straight to the source for a purer form of Omega 3 fats.
Many people may already supplement their diet with Omega 3s; however, recent research shows that in relation to the cardiovascular system, not all omega 3 fatty acids offer the same protection. Marine sources of Omega 3s are rich in DHA and EPA, and help to prevent the incidence of heart attack and stroke. DHA and EPA have been shown to benefit the heart by increasing HDL (good) cholesterol and reducing LDL (harmful) cholesterol, lowering triglycerides and reducing blood pressure. There are other Omega 3 fats such as ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), founding flaxseeds, walnuts and some oils, however, this does not benefit the health of the heart as well as marine-derived Omega 3s.
Dr Coloquhoun urges everyone to consider the five critical lifestyle factors for maintaining a healthy heart:
aim for 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each day (you should be puffing)
reduce your alcohol intake to 2 standard drinks per day for men, 1 for women (although we at the Food Coach recommend even less, making sure you have at least three alcohol free days per week)
maintain a healthy weight
"To get your daily requirement of omega-3s, you just need to eat foods that are enriched with omega-3s rather than taking supplements," Dr Colquhoun continues.
"The Heart Foundation recommends that to lower the risk of heart disease, Australians should consume about 500 mg per day of combined DHA and EPA through a combination of fish (at least two serves of oily fish per week), and food and drinks enriched with marine omega-3s. Those with Coronary Heart Disease are advised to double that amount." For example, a 175g tub of yoghurt enriched with algal DHA provides 108 mg of DHA.
Algal DHA has been evaluated in 16 clinical studies, demonstrating that this vegetarian source is as effective as blends of fish oil with DHA plus EPA in reducing triglycerides in subjects with an elevated triglyceride level. High triglyceride levels are considered an independent risk factor for heart disease. Algal DHA may also be used in combination with statin medicine (drugs used to lower cholesterol).
Overall the use of algal DHA is associated with an excellent safety profile. Algal DHA is free of any oceanic contaminants, is renewable, and is certified as Kosher and Halal.
Melanie McGrice, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, offers these additional dietary tips for a healthy heart:
Ensure that you eat plenty of vegetables. Aim for at least 5 serves each day (one serve equals a cup of uncooked vegetables or a cup of salad)
Choose low fat dairy foods
Limit take away foods
Avoid adding salt to meals
Trim all visible fat off meat
Include legumes (such as baked beans, chick peas and kidney beans) in your diet
Use garlic in cooking
Choose wholegrain cereals
For more information about the new algal source of DHA, visit www.lifesdha.com.au
Ryan AS, et al. Clinical overview of algal-docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): effects on triglyceride levels and other cardiovascular risk factors. American Journal of Therapeutics. 2008
See heartfoundation.org.au for the National Heart Foundation's position paper on omega-3s.