While a storybook source of perpetual youth is the stuff of Ponce de León legends, there are some genuine ways to cheat the unavoidable march of time. The inevitable decline in vitality that every human must face is a harsh truth, but is not necessarily something that has to come too soon. What certainly can be managed, and even mastered, is a slowing down of the aging process through smart diet choices that promote longevity and a reduction in cognitive decline. The best way to do that is through exercise and a varied, nutritious diet gathered from a range of sources. One of the better choices that can have an array of positive effects system wide are foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
A dynamo of energy for the body, omega-3 fatty acids are known to strengthen many biological functions, including heart, brain, eyes, lungs, blood vessels, and both immune and endocrine systems.
The three primary omega-3 fatty acids include docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). DHA and EPA can be found in seafood, while ALA is present mainly in nuts, seeds, plant oils, and some cheeses.
Good For The Mind And Body
Consistently linked with the vital support of cardiovascular health and lowering triglyceride levels, which decreases the risk of heart disease and stroke, foods containing omega-3 fatty acids are known to be among the most nutritious diet choices — for both mind and body — that a person can make. In fact, a study released this month by the journal Nutrients showed that participants with high omega-3 blood levels were less at risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). The observational study included 1,490 dementia-free participants over the age of 65 years old — some of whom carried the ApoE4 gene, which nearly doubles an individual’s susceptibility to develop the disease — and concluded that people with higher blood DHA levels were 49% less likely to develop AD versus the lowest blood levels of DHA in the cohort.
Scientists have estimated that omega-3s from fish have been a part of the human ancestral diet for millions of years. During the Paleolithic Era intake of marine omega-3 by humans was six times the current intake. One report found that the current global population diet is deficient in marine omega-3s, specifically DHA, a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid that’s important for eye and brain development. DHA also plays a key role in mental health throughout early childhood and even into adulthood.
While omega-3 fatty acids tend to be known mainly for their high content in fish — some of which today contains increasingly alarming levels of harmful mercury — there are a wide array of other foods brimming with the nutrient-rich powerhouse. Those include nuts, seeds, oils made from plants, and even some cheeses. There are also foods fortified with omega-3, like yogurt, juice, and milk, as well as dietary supplements like fish oil.
Common natural sources of omega-3 include seafood such as mackerel, tuna, herring, salmon, and sardines, as well as nuts and seeds like walnuts, flaxseed, and chia seeds. There are also certain cheeses like Sardinian pecorino, derived from grass-fed and free-range animals, and some Alpine cheeses that are naturally high in omega-3. It’s believed that Sardinian pecorino cheese is one of the dietary elements that helps make Sardinia a “Blue Zone”, or special geographic region where a large number of people in the community enjoy healthy lives past 100 years old. Alpine cheese is known to be a relevant source of ALA and other cardioprotective fatty acids containing four times more ALA compared to cheddar cheese.
Omega-3 Rich Marine Foods And Mercury Risks
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises a healthy diet for adults of at least 8 ounces of seafood per week based on a 2,000 calorie diet. The administration also lists some fish choices to avoid due to high levels of mercury, including swordfish, bigeye tuna, tilefish, king mackerel, shark, and marlin.
While there is certainly some reason for concern regarding mercury and other contaminants in seafood, the Mayo Clinic notes that the benefits of eating fish as part of a healthy diet usually outweigh the possible risks of exposure to contaminants. The trick is to balance those concerns adding a healthy amount of safer fish to a well-rounded diet that incorporates all the key food groups.
While there’s no single magic-bullet diet for good health, the typical dietary patterns in certain regions around the Mediterranean — such as Sardinia and Ikaria, Greece — naturally create those desirable Blue Zones with their eating habits. They are locales that have long been celebrated as some of the healthiest populations on Earth due in part to their diversity and attention to nutritious foods that are rich in (among other things) omega-3. With regular consumption of vegetables, fruits, legumes, lean protein, as wells as berries (which contain omega-3) and seafood, and low consumption of red meat and refined sugar, they are excellent examples of beneficial diets to model.