Foods with Omega-3 Fatty Acids
There are three main types of this polyunsaturated fat-EPA, DHA, and ALA. The first two are found naturally in fish and fish oils. Soybeans, canola oil, walnuts, and flaxseed contain ALA.
Margarine, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, waffles, cereal, crackers, and tortilla chips.
What they do
Powerful weapons against heart disease, omega-3 fatty acids help lower blood pressure, control the inflammation inside artery walls that can lead to clogging, and regulate heartbeat. In addition, they're important for brain function, helping to prevent depression. If you're trying to ward off heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends consuming two or more 4-ounce servings of fatty fish a week (that's about 2,800 to 3,500 milligrams of DHA and EPA a week-the equivalent of 400 to 500 milligrams daily). It also suggests eating ALA-rich foods but hasn't determined a specific amount.
Should you bite?
Most women's diets pack plenty of ALA but just 60 to 175 milligrams of DHA and EPA daily-not nearly enough. Fatty fish is the best way to bump up your intake, says Anding, because it's the most concentrated source of omega-3s in addition to being low in calories, high in protein, and rich in the minerals zinc and selenium. "But if you don't eat it, fortified products are an excellent substitute," says Peter Howe, Ph.D., director of the Nutritional Physiology Research Center at the University of South Australia. In a study he conducted, 47 overweight men and women-most of whom weren't regular fish eaters- consumed foods with added omega-3s. "After six months blood levels of the omega-3s EPA and DHA increased enough to have a protective effect on the heart," he says.
You can also take advantage of these fortified products if you're pregnant or breast-feeding, especially if morning sickness makes fish less appealing than usual. "Moms-to-be may want to boost their intake of EPA and DHA because it might help prevent pregnancy complications like preterm labor and high blood pressure," says Emily Oken, M.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention at Harvard Medical School. "Studies show these omega-3s may also boost the IQ of babies who get it from breast milk."
What to buy
Look for products with added DHA and EPA that you can substitute for other healthy foods in your diet. Eggland's Best omega-3 eggs (52 mg of DHA and EPA combined per egg), Horizon Organic Reduced Fat Milk Plus DHA (32 mg per cup), Breyers Smart yogurt (32 mg DHA per 6-ounce carton), and Omega Farms Monterey Jack Cheese (75 mg of DHA and EPA combined per ounce) all fit the bill. If you see a product boasting several hundred milligrams of omega- 3s, check the label carefully. "It's probably made with flax or another source of ALA, and your body won't be able to use more than 1 percent of the omega- 3s from it," says William Harris, Ph.D., a professor of medicine at the University of South Dakota. "So if a product provides 400 milligrams of ALA, it's equivalent to getting only 4 milligrams of EPA."
Foods with Phytosterols
Tiny amounts of these plant compounds are found naturally in nuts, oils, and produce.
Orange juice, cheese, milk, margarine, almonds, cookies, muffins, and yogurt.
What they do
They block the absorption of cholesterol in the small intestine.
Should you bite?
If your LDL (bad cholesterol) level is 130 milligrams per deciliter or higher, the U.S. government's National Cholesterol Education Program recommends adding 2 grams of phytosterols to your diet daily-an amount that's practically impossible to get from food. (For example, it would take 1¼ cups of corn oil, one of the richest sources.) "This amount should help lower your LDL by 10 to 14 percent within two weeks," says Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., R.D., a member of the American Heart Association's nutrition committee. If your LDL cholesterol is 100 to 129 mg/dL (slightly above an optimal level), talk to your doctor, suggests Kris-Etherton. Pass altogether if you're pregnant or nursing, as researchers haven't determined whether extra sterols are safe during these times. For the same reason, don't give sterol-fortified products to kids.
What to buy
Find one or two items that you can easily swap for foods you're apt to consume daily to avoid eating extra calories. Try Minute Maid Heart Wise orange juice (1 g sterols per cup), Benecol spread (850 mg sterols per tablespoon), Lifetime Low- Fat Cheddar (660 mg per ounce), or Promise Activ Super- Shots (2 g per 3 ounces). For maximum benefit, split the 2 grams you need between breakfast and dinner, says Cyril Kendall, Ph.D., a research scientist at the University of Toronto. "That way you'll block the absorption of cholesterol at two meals instead of just one."