Healthy fats - the benefits of Omega 3

There's so much competing information available regarding nutrition, a parent’s quest to keep healthy food on the table can be confusing – especially when it comes to cutting through the fat … on fats.

Omega-3s – Cutting Through the Fat

We often hear about the health benefits of omega-3s, the "good fats", but have you ever found yourself wondering just what it is they do? If so, read on...

But isn’t fat bad for us?

It’s never that simple! Different kinds of fats, saturated and unsaturated, are processed differently by the body, and therefore have different health effects. The really important fat factor as far as your child is concerned is that it stores energy – the energy your child needs to grow and develop. But you are right that although fat is a natural ingredient in much of the food we eat, too many "bad fats" – especially the trans fats found in the junk food and snacks kids love – promote the production of bad cholesterol. This raises your child’s risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease and other negative health effects in adulthood.

So why are Omega-3s so good?

Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly those found in fish oils, are believed to prevent cholesterol from clogging our arteries, keeping our hearts healthy. Omega-3s are also believed to help fight everything from diabetes to cancer — they may even aid neurological repair and provide benefits to people with certain psychological disorders.

So where do I get these "wonder fats"?

Find it in salmon, tuna, sardines and anchovies, and other types of fish – doctors recommend eating fatty fish at least twice a week.

But my child hates fish!

Not a problem: your child’s body can get Omega-3s from foods like tofu and other forms of soybeans, canola, walnut and flaxseed and their oils, and dark green leafy vegetables. Fortified foods such as eggs, bread and juice are also believed to promote production of Omega-3 fatty acids.

Give your child a varied selection of these choices and she’ll reap the benefits of Omega-3s.

Cutting through the fat:

  • Consume less than ten percent of calories from saturated fatty acids and less than 300 mg/day of cholesterol, and keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible.
  • Keep total fat intake between 20 to 35 percent of calories, with most fats coming from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as fish, nuts, and vegetable oils.
  • When selecting and preparing meat, poultry, dry beans, and milk or milk products, make choices that are lean, low-fat, or fat-free.
  • Limit intake of fats and oils high in saturated and/or trans fatty acids, and choose products low in such fats and oils.

Some easy Omega 3 recipes for families on the go:

  • Smoothies make an easy breakfast that is a hit with all family members, big and small. For an Omega 3-friendly smoothie, mix 1 banana, a cup of frozen blueberries or raspberries, 1/4-cup of low-fat yoghurt, a cup of soya milk and enough ice for a good blend. Kick up the omega-3s by tossing in some walnuts and a touch of silken tofu.
  • Tuna is a great source for Omega-3 fatty acids, and tuna sandwiches are fast and easy. Mix a can of cooked tuna in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and a handful of chopped celery. Spread and serve.
  • Salad is a natural part of a balanced dinner. Make sure to use dark green leafy lettuce, and top your salad with chopped walnuts. Use a simple olive oil and vinegar dressing to help minimise saturated fats.
  • Introducing spinach to picky palettes can be a challenge. Try a simple spinach pasta dish. Start by blanching washed spinach for one minute; drain, chop and set aside. Then start your pasta. In a food processor, mince a clove of garlic, your spinach, 1 cup of low-fat cottage cheese and 1/4-cup milk. Combine 1/4-cup of Parmesan cheese, a pinch of salt and pepper, and a handful of of jarred roasted red peppers. Toss with pasta and serve warm.

Related links

Find out more

Vegetarian Society fact sheet on Omega 3's

The Fish Foundation's technical explanation of Omega 3's!

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