Learn about the benefits of omega-3 — a polyunsaturated fat — and the roles fats play in a natural and effective heart-healthy diet.
For optimal heart health, my Pan-Asian Modified Mediterranean (PAMM) diet emphasizes a generous quantity of high-quality fats—as much as 30 percent of your daily calories—which are key for helping to lower your risk of heart disease. One of the most important contributions of the PAMM diet is providing foods that contain omega-3 essential fatty acids—a form of polyunsaturated fats. Omega-3s benefit heart health not only by helping to prevent heart disease, but also by supporting normal blood pressure and improving heart rate variability.
Unfortunately, American Diets Don't Contain Enough Omega-3 Benefits
The two kinds of polyunsaturated fats important for heart health are omega-3 and omega-6. Ideally, we should all strive for a 2:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in our diets. Unfortunately, few people meet this guideline.
The omega-6 building block, linoleic acid, is very easy to obtain and consume because it occurs naturally in almost all nuts and seeds and is abundant in many oils, including evening primrose, black currant, borage, and flaxseed oils.
Omega-3s, on the other hand, are more challenging to get from food because there are few natural sources of omega-3s. This can lead to omega-3 deficiency. In fact, some researchers now believe that the average American diet puts our current omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in an alarming 30:1 range. Eating such a skewed diet over the long haul is a sure way to create internal inflammation, the key cause of heart disease.
To Improve Heart Health, Look For Natural Sources of Omega-3s
Part of the solution is to limit your omega-6 intake, as most Americans consume too much of this fatty acid. Another part of the solution is to seek out natural sources of omega-3s. Some of the most plentiful sources of omega-3 benefits are cold-water fish (wild salmon, for example), flaxseed, and pumpkin seed oils, as well as dark leafy green vegetables.
Of course, you could always add to your omega-3 intake by taking an omega-3 supplement. Look for a supplement that includes both EPA and DHA. DHA omega-3s offer essential benefits for the heart, and are vital for the brain. EPA omega-3s also support the heart, as well as the rest of the body. I recommend algae or calamari oil supplements, which have higher DHA than most fish oils. Moreover, unlike some fish oils, these oils are sustainably sourced and do not have a fishy taste.
Aside from Omega-3s, Seek Out Other Healthy Fats
Wholesome fats you should eat in a heart-healthy diet include olives and olive oil, fatty fish, nuts and nut butters, flaxseed, soy, and avocados. I have already introduced you to polyunsaturated omega-3 and omega-6 fats. But in order to make sound decisions about the best fats to include in your heart-healthy diet, it’s helpful to know a little more about all three types of fats: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated (omega-6 and omega-3 fats).
- Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Meat, for example, contains saturated fat. Saturated fats can help prevent cholesterol from entering the arteries and fueling inflammation. If you're getting saturated fats from beef, only buy grass-fed beef to avoid antibiotics, hormones, and inflammatory omega-6 fats. You can also get saturated fats from butter, eggs, and some nuts.
- Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, but solid in the refrigerator. Found in olive oil, avocados, and many nuts, monounsaturated fats support healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and they are thought to help stabilize blood sugar levels. They also help preserve your pancreas because they don’t provoke an excessive insulin response.
- Polyunsaturated fats, which occur naturally in plants and seafood, are liquid at both room temperature and when refrigerated. Examples are safflower, sunflower, corn, soy, canola, sesame, flax, and fish oils. Both omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fats are known as essential fatty acids (EFAs) because they are essential for life.
How Much Should I Eat on My Heart-Healthy Diet Plan?
To keep your heart healthy, I recommend as part of my PAMM diet that you aim for three to five servings of healthy fats and oils daily and minimize omega-6 oils as much as possible. One serving of fat or oil is equal to:
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil,
- 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed or chia seed,
- 2 ½ ounces avocado,
- 1 ½ tablespoons almond (no sugar added), tahini or other nut butter,
- Or 2 ounces walnuts, almonds or macadamia nuts.
Note: Serving guidelines are based on a 1,800 to 2,000 calories-per-day eating plan. If your goal is weight reduction, consume smaller portions in order to lower your caloric intake.
More Dr. Sinatra Advice on Eating a Heart-Healthy Diet
Want to know how dairy foods fit into the PAMM diet for optimal heart health? Get all the details on how dairy products contribute to the heart-healthy PAMM diet plan.
How do whole grains fit into the heart-healthy PAMM diet plan? Find out the important role that whole grains, nuts, and seeds play in the PAMM diet for optimal heart health.
Want more specifics on the PAMM diet for optimal heart health? Get all the details on the heart-healthy PAMM diet plan.