A recent study or actually an analysis of previous studies showed that Omega-3 fatty acid supplements (fish oil supplements) did not lower risk of heart attack, stroke and death from heart disease.
However, that does not mean that fish or omega-3 fatty acids are not protective. The researchers (which happened to be Greek) studied supplements, not food. I am just clarifying, as many media outlets are saying that fish in general do not do anything.
Of course, the supplement industry was quick to react saying that study was flawed, but even if it is not clear if the supplement form of fish oils is effective, we know that getting nutrients from foods-not supplements is what is associated with all the health benefits we keep hearing about, whether that is Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins or antioxidants.
And that’s what the Mediterranean diet is all about; time and time again studies show that the combination of foods will result in protection from chronic disease and not individual nutrients. There is an interaction among the different components of a meal or a food that cannot be replicated in a supplement.
But let’s go back to the Omega-3 fatty acids and the Greek diet. Well, traditionally Greeks did not get Omega-3’s only from the small fatty fish such as sardines and anchovies. In fact almost all food groups were a source of these beneficial fatty acids.
In her article “The Mediterranean Diets: What Is So Special about the Diet of Greece? The Scientific Evidence” published in the Journal of Nutrition, physician Artemis Simopoulos notes how Greeks consumed wild plants (wild greens) that are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, and how the meat they ate came from animals that grazed rather than being fed grain, and it contained polyunsaturated fatty acids as did the milk and milk products, such as cheese.
How does this apply to you? Well, try getting your omega-3 fatty acids from food.
Fatty Fish: Sure you can try salmon, but the cheaper sardines and anchovies (as the Greeks ate) will do the trick, not only are they affordable but they are also low in mercury, PCB’s and other contaminants. And yes you can use canned as well.
Nuts: Walnuts are the dominant nut used in the Greek cuisine, and yes they just so happen to be a good source of ALA another type of Omega-3 fatty acid, different from the one in fish. Add to yogurt, in cereal, in cakes, in salads, stuff it in dried fruit, eat it with cheese, or just eat it plain.
Leafy Greens: They are a source of omega-3 fatty acids particularly if they are wild.
Dairy and Meat: Prefer organic dairy and meat from grass-fed animals as studies have shown that they have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
Thanks for a great article! I absolutely love fresh sardines but have such a hard time finding them in Los Angeles… Whole Foods won’t carry them now because apparently they are classified ‘Red’ by the MSC. I actually had thought they were abundant, being a smaller fish… Do you know if sardines are in fact in danger?
One thing I can find in LA, when in season, is purslane – so high in omega 3s and so delicious!