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With sudden cardiac events causing 47% of line of duty, heart disease is a major concern in the fire service. Now, preventing heart disease is multi-faceted and can’t be prevented by a single nutrient. Exercise, sleep, nutrition, and even mental health are huge factors. But, omega-3 fats can play a big role in heart disease prevention.
What are Omega-3 Fats and Why Are They Important?
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is found in mostly plant-based foods, while EPA and DHA are found mostly in fish and other seafood. These powerful Omega-3s are often associated with major health benefits, from combatting heart disease to improving brain function.
Adding more omega-3 fats to your diet can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and improve blood vessel function. A higher intake of fish may reduce inflammation and therefore reduce the risk of developing atherosclerosis.
For heart attack survivors, the GISSI Prevention trial suggested that those who took 1,000 mg fish oil daily for three years were less likely to have a repeat heart attack or stroke than those who took a placebo. The risk of sudden cardiac death in this study was reduced by 50%!
In addition to heart disease prevention, studies suggest that diets high in omega-3s may reduce risk of cognitive decline and dementia and may have a modest impact on depression.
Sources of Omega 3’s
Dietary sources of omega 3 fatty acids are relatively limited. Sources are mostly cold water fish or seeds, which are rarely at the top of most people’s favorite foods list. Try some of these fish out at restaurants to get ideas on preparation. Or, try the Sweet Chili Salmon recipe! A sauce can hide some of the “fishy” flavor or smell and enhance the buttery texture.
EPA & DHA
Fortified eggs, yogurt, juices, milk, and soy beverages are also good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
How Much do I Need?
For you to reap the benefits, the American Heart Association recommends eating two, 3.5-ounce servings of fatty fish per week. Consider adding flaxseed or chia seed to smoothies, oatmeal, or yogurt.
What About Supplements?
Hate fish? You can substitute 1,000 mg of combined EPA and DHA fish oil if your goal is general heart health. For those with high triglycerides or LDL cholesterol, 2,000-4,000mg may help reduce these biomarkers by 15-30%.
To prevent the “fish burp” that can come with fish oil supplements, refrigerate or freeze the capsules. The trick is to place the bottle next to your coffee creamer so that you do not forget to take them!
Be sure to get physician or dietitian approval before starting fish oil supplements. Fish oil supplements are not recommended for those on blood thinners (Coumadin, Warfarin, Aspirin etc.).
The Bottom Line
Increasing your Omega-3 intake may reduce your risk for heart disease. Food is preferred, but supplementation may be an option if approved by your physician. Omega 3’s are often lacking in firefighter diets. Check out the Sweet Chili Salmon and the Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal to sneak some Omega 3’s into your diet.
Megan Lautz, MS, RD, CSCS, TSAC-F
Megan is a Registered Dietitian and coach who specializes in firefighter nutrition. Megan’s mission is to help firefighters perform better, recover faster, and enjoy long healthy retirements. Megan is the owner of RescueRD LLC, which provides nutrition seminars and coaching for tactical athletes across the country. Check out @Rescue.RD on Facebook and Instagram.