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New Study Shows Link Between Omega-3 Fats and Healthier Gut

More diverse gut bacteria has been linked with lower body weight. See how you can boost your omega-3 intake.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been well-studied for their deluge of health benefits. A large, ever-amassing body of research has already shown that omega-3 fats may help slash your risk of stroke and heart disease by lowering your triglycerides, decreasing inflammation, reducing your LDL (bad) cholesterol while increasing your HDL (good) cholesterol, and thinning your blood. But emerging research has found yet another health benefit of consuming omega-3 fats: improved gut health, which can translate to a lower body weight.

The study out of London and Nottingham, published in the September 2017 issue of Scientific Reports, found that among the more than 800 women in the study, those who routinely ate more omega-3 fats had a large number of beneficial bacteria in their gut as well as a more diverse composition of healthy bacteria. A growing body of research shows that a more diverse microbiome is associated with a lower body weight.

Improved Gut Health and Weight

Another recent study discovered that lean individuals have seventy percent more gut bacteria (meaning a more diverse microbiota) than overweight or obese individuals. Additional research reveals that those who live in the United States, where overweight and obesity are prevalent, have significantly less-diverse gut bacteria than those living in other countries.

A more diverse microbiome (the bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in your gut) is also associated with a significantly lower risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, depression, cancer, and cognitive decline.

Recommended Intake

There are three main types of omega-3 fats. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) did not set specific recommendations for amounts of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic (EPA), but did set Adequate Intakes (AI) for alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) since they are essential. AI for individuals 19 years of age and older: males 1.6 grams/day, females 1.1 grams/day, pregnant 1.4 grams/day, lactating 1.3 grams/day.

How to Get More Omega-3s

A quick note about plant and marine sources of the three forms of omega-3 fats: marine sources contain both DHA and EPA, which are easily absorbed by your body. Plant foods, on the other hand, generally only contain ALA, which your body must then convert to the two other types of omega-3 fats—DHA and EPA—in order for you to reap the health rewards. Unfortunately, the amount converted is minimal—your body converts less than 15 percent of ALA to EPA and DHA.

Fatty Fish = Not So Fatty Waistline

Fatty fish such as salmon, albacore tuna, herring, mackerel, rainbow trout, sardines, silver perch, anchovies, Chilean sea bass, and eel, are swimming with slimming omega-3 fats. Try replacing a serving of red meat with fatty fish twice a week at minimum.

Say Why Not to Walnuts

Snack on a small handful of walnuts (about 15 halves), or toss them into your morning oatmeal, mix them into your whole-grain muffins, breads or pancakes, or add them to your veggie-filled salad for added crunch and nutty flavor. To enhance the flavor, toast the walnuts beforehand.

Chia Seeds and Flax Seeds

A tablespoon of chia seeds provides an impressive 5.06 grams ALA per ounce. One tablespoon of flaxseeds gives you 2.35 grams ALA, but flaxseed oil provides 7.26 grams ALA per tablespoon. Make a quick salad dressing using flaxseed oil and vinegar and drizzle over salad or roasted veggies. Chia seeds can mixed into yogurt, oatmeal, or smoothies.

Seaweed/Sea Plants

Sea plants and seaweed are chock-full of the omega-3 fat ALA. Fun fact: the reason fatty fish are excellent sources of omega-3s is because their diet is rich in phytoplankton that ate microalgae (seaweed) and they absorb the omega-3 fats into their tissues. Roasted seaweed is gaining popularity and can be found in most grocery stores now in delicious flavors such as teriyaki, sriracha, wasabi ginger, sweet onion, and sea salt. Enjoy as a snack on their own (you just eat them like chips) or crumble and sprinkle them onto salads, popcorn, pasta dishes, or soups. You can also now purchase algae oil (Thrive is a brand I have seen).

Plant Oils

Oils made from plants, including canola, flaxseed, and soybean oil, provide ALA and are also heart healthy. Use canola and soybean oil for your all-purpose cooking and baking, but avoid cooking with flaxseed oil (use it fresh in salad dressings or dips) because it has a low smoke point.

Omega-3 Rich Eggs and Other Fortified Foods

Some brands of eggs and other foods, including milk, soy milk, yogurt, and juice, are fortified with DHA and can help you boost your total omega-3 fat intake.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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