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Why you need omega-3s

Dining at seafood restaurants or visiting the fishmonger more frequently might help you significantly lower your chances of dying from a heart attack. Studies have shown a link between the type of unsaturated fat present in certain fish—called omega-3 fatty acids—and a reduced risk of death from heart disease.

Researchers believe that omega-3s help reduce inflammation in our bodies and lower blood pressure, which can contribute to better heart health. Omega-3s are also associated with a reduced risk of sudden cardiac death. And, when you choose fish for dinner over red meat, you get healthy, unsaturated fat, rather than the saturated fat found in red meat.

The American Heart Association recommends that people eat fish rich in omega-3s at least twice a week. Don’t worry if you’ve heard that some fish have high levels of mercury. Experts believe that the heart-health benefits from eating omega-3-rich fish outweigh the potential risk of consuming too much mercury, which can prevent the brain and nervous system from developing properly in unborn babies, infants and young children. That’s why pregnant women, nursing mothers and children under age 12 should limit their fish consumption to no more than 12 ounces (340 grams) of fish in total a week, including no more than 6 ounces of canned tuna a week. They should completely avoid seafood that’s typically high in mercury, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish.

Choosing the right omega-3s

Whether you’re heading to the market or perusing a menu, choose the right fish to reap the most of omega-3s’ benefits. Salmon and herring are two of the best sources of omega-3s, and tuna contains a moderate amount. Other fish also contain some omega-3s, particularly particularly fatty, ocean-dwelling fish, such as mackerel, sardines and halibut rather than freshwater fish like catfish (though lake trout is rich in omega-3s). And preparation matters: A recent study found that people who eat baked or boiled fish gain more protective benefits from their omega-3s than those who eat fried fish.

Not a fan of fish, but want some omega-3s in your diet? Add ground flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans and canola oil to your meals, although these vegetarian sources of omega-3s provide fewer benefits than fish.