Recommendations of Dietary Intake for Optimal Health Benefits
Dietary guidelines have been set by various governmental and health agencies, medical clinics, doctors, and dietitians. Though guidelines have been slow to change, most acknowledge the health benefits from enriching the diet in omega-3 fatty acids by including at least two servings of marine fish each week.
American Heart Association researcher Kris-Etherton says “Omega-3 fatty acids are not just good fats: They affect heart health in positive ways. They make the blood less likely to form clots that cause heart attack and protect against irregular heartbeats that cause sudden cardiac death. Healthy people should eat omega-3 fatty acids from fish and plant sources to protect their hearts. Research shows that all omega-3 fats have cardioprotective benefits, especially those in fish.”
The American Heart Association recommendations are that all adults consume fish, particularly fatty fish, at least twice a week to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and death. For those with documented heart disease, the Association boosted its recommendation to at least one gram per day of EPA + DHA, preferably from oily fish. See the Association’s 2006 Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommend that fat make up no more than 35 percent of total daily calories. The upper limits of saturated fat should be less than 10 percent of total daily calories and the majority of dietary fat should be monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
The USDA provides no recommendation for the ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats though the agency does recommend eating fish at least twice weekly. Though no limit has been set for intake of trans fat, both the USDA and HHS suggest keeping trans fat intake as low as possible. USDA provides an excellent guide to help use nutritional labels.
Artemis Simopoulos, M.D., president of The Center for Nutrition and Health in Washington, D.C., and an international authority on essential fatty acids, recommends the following balance of fats:
- 35 percent of the total daily calories from dietary fat (0.35 x 2000 = 700 fat calories);
- 75 percent from monounsaturated fat (0.75 X 700 calories = 525 calories);
- about 15 percent of the total fat calories from saturated fat (0.15 X 700 = 105 calories); and
- 10 percent of the total fat calories (0.1 X 700 = 70 calories) from polyunsaturated fat.
For the polyunsaturated fats she recommends a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 of four to one, with approximately 56 calories coming from omega-6 and 14 calories coming from omega-3 fat. One gram of fat represents nine calories. To convert calories from fats to grams of fat, divide fat calories by nine.
The total number of calories consumed daily depends on level of activity, size and gender. Percent daily values (%DV) listed on food labels are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. For help deciphering nutritional labels, see the USDA Web site. Eating healthier can start with replacing beef, pork and lamb with marine fish, including warmwater Gulf fish, at least twice a week; sautéing with olive oil instead of butter or vegetable oil; baking with canola oil instead of butter, shortening or vegetable oil; baking, grilling, broiling or poaching instead of frying; and snacking on walnuts, low-fat yogurt or fruit instead of crackers and chips.
Make wise food choices for optimal health benefits from foods.
- Increase the amounts of omega-3 fatty acids by including Gulf fish at least 2-3 times weekly.
- Decrease the amounts of omega-6 fatty acids by avoiding polyunsaturated vegetable oils.
- Limit foods high in saturated fatty acids by using lean cuts of meat, skinless chicken and low-fat cheeses and other milk products.
- Check nutritional tables and eliminate foods with trans fats by staying away from fast foods and processed foods.