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ON NUTRITION

It's the Oils That Make Fish Good for the Heart

October 19, 1998|ED BLONZ | Ed Blonz is the author of "Power Nutrition" (Signet, 1998) and the "Your Personal Nutritionist" book series (Signet, 1996)

Dear Dr. Blonz: I keep reading that I should be eating more fish. The problem is that I don't like the taste. Is there something unique to fish that I cannot get elsewhere in my diet?--S.F., Arlington, Ill.

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Dear S.F.: Too bad that you don't have a taste for fish, because it has been found to be an asset in the fight against heart disease. The first studies describing the low incidence of heart disease in fish-eating populations appeared more than two decades ago. Since then, scientists have come a long way toward unraveling the mechanism by which fish does its job. The evidence keeps pointing to omega-3 oils in fish as the source of this unique property.

Omega-3 oils are a type of polyunsaturated oil that is manufactured by plants that grow in the sea and a few that grow on land. The fish that eat these sea plants (as well as the fish that eat those fish) accumulate these essential fatty acids, or EFAs, in their bodies. These are mainly the varieties of fish found in cold water. Those fish that contain a high level of omega-3 EFAs include mackerel, sardines, salmon, tuna, herring, yellowtail and trout.

There are nonfish options too, because on land, there's a generous supply of omega-3 oils in flaxseed (linseed) oil, and smaller amounts in walnut, soybean and canola oils, as well as wheat germ.

Studies have shown how the omega-3s get inside our platelets, the fraction of the blood that plays a key role in blood clotting. The omega-3s actually compete with other fats for positioning. Fish-oil fats can slow down the rate at which clots occur, which can be a definite plus for those at risk for heart disease.

In the end, though, fish should not be thought of as a magic bullet against heart disease. Fish represent good food and a convenient source of essential fats.

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* Ed Blonz is the author of the "Your Personal Nutritionist" book series (Signet, 1996). Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, in care of Newspaper Enterprise Assn., 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016, or e-mail to ed@blonz.com. Personal replies cannot be provided.

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