Tomorrow we think of affairs of the heart: flowers, cupid, and chocolate all come to mind. But, this year, treat your special someone to something really good for their heart and brain…seafood and fish. OK, not the most romantic or sexy of foods, but fish and seafood provide needed fats for healthy hearts and brains.
Fish and seafood contain high quality protein (here is an older post on protein for those over 50.)
But today we are focusing healthy fats. For that, fish can’t be beat. A quick look at the alphabet soup of healthy fats:
Omega-3s: These are the chemical class of healthy fats; if you want to impress your friends tell them the name omega-3s comes how the fat molecule is structured; the omega end of the chemical fat chain and the first double bond, 3 carbons in…hence, “omega-3s.”
EPA and DHA are 2 types of omega-3s that help to keep our blood vessels healthy (a healthy blood vessel dilates and contracts to control blood pressure and move blood throughout the body; a stiff blood vessel is not a healthy one), helps to lower a blood fat called triglycerides, and helps brains cells communicating (fat makes up a large part of our brain). DHA is especially important in brain health. Dr. Tom Brenna, of the Dell Pediatric Research Institute at the University of Texas at Austin puts it this way, “as calcium is to the bones, DHA is to the brain.”
ALA is another type of healthy omega-3 found in plant foods like walnuts, chia seeds, and flax. While we need this type of fat, too, only a small amount of it is converted to EPA and DHA, so it isn’t a substitute for fish, seafood, or fish oil supplements.
Health organizations recommend that we eat fish or seafood twice a week (4-ounce portions) to get the needed 250-500 milligrams of EPA and DHA. Not all fish is created equal when it comes to the healthy fats: fatty fish like salmon, trout, anchovies, mackerel, and sardines have the highest levels, with milder fish like cod, haddock, mahi mahi, and tilapia containing lower levels. However, don’t let that discourage your from eating tilapia or mahi mahi, but consider adding some sea bass or tuna in the mix to boost EPA and DHA intake. For great information on everything you want to know about fish…from omega-3 containing fish and seafood to choosing and preparing fish, check out the Seafood Nutrition Partnership.
A couple of other things to consider:
• Frozen or canned fish is not inferior; it is kind to your wallet and is a good way to eat fish if you can’t find fresh seafood in your local market. I use frozen fish to grill and blacken for tasty fish tacos and frozen shrimp for Pad Thai or a stir-fry.
• Grill it, broil it, bake it, steam it, or poach it to keep the omega-3s from losing their potency. The high heat of frying can break down the omega-3s, so save that cooking method for the occasional fish fry.
• If you just don’t like fish or have a family member who won’t touch it, consider fish oil supplements. Look at the nutrition facts panel to make sure you are getting EPA and DHA in the 250-500 milligram range. On this label you see value of a 1000 milligrams, but not all of that fish oil is EPA and DHA; you’ve got to look at the actual amount of EPA and DHA in the supplement.
• For vegetarians, consider an algae-based omega-3 supplement.
And, happy Valentine’s Day! More tips on food and fitness after 50 can be found in our book, available on Amazon.