Yes, there certainly are! Good sources include:
- Canola and olive oils
- Ground flaxseed
- Leafy green veggies
There are three main types of omega-3s. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are mainly found in fish, whereas alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found elsewhere. Good sources of ALA include vegetable oils (such as soybean or canola), nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds and flaxseed oil, and leafy vegetables (like kale, spinach, and Brussels sprouts). You could try adding some walnuts and flaxseed into your oatmeal, yogurt, or smoothie, and use vegetable oil for cooking or in a salad dressing to top off a leafy veggie. Try using canola oil to make a vegetable stir fry with tofu. Tahini, which is made with sesame seeds, is a great source of omega-3s and can be used to make sauces and dips, such as hummus. For more information about nutrition, check out the get balanced! Guide for Healthier Eating.
Omega-3s fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids that your body needs for numerous body functions, such as controlling blood clotting and normal brain function. Omega-3s have been shown to help prevent heart disease and possibly stroke, may help control lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis due to anti-inflammatory properties, and could be protective against certain types of cancer and other conditions.
There is some debate on whether sources of ALA carry the same benefits as fish sources of EPA and DHA. The body converts ALA into EPA and DHA, but not everyone’s body does this well. If you’re not averse to making an exception to your vegetarianism for fish oil, you can consider taking a fish oil supplement and might want to speak with your health care provider or a regsitered dietitian before doing so. For questions about your specific individual nutritional needs, Columbia students can make an appointment with Medical Services on the Morningside Campus or Student Health at the Medical Center to speak with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian.
Since high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, decreasing salt (sodium) consumption can greatly contribute to enhanced health for everyone — Even if you don’t currently have salt-sensitive hypertension. Paying attention to your daily salt intake now can help you prevent high blood pressure in the future. Overconsumption of salt has been linked to an increased risk of osteoporosis, particularly in women. Regardless of how much calcium is in your diet, researchers have found that a high sodium intake can lead to calcium loss (excreted out in urine).
While increased salt consumption can lead to greater health risks, it’s important to know that everyone needs a small amount of salt to keep their bodies working properly. After all, salt helps regulate blood pressure, transmit nerve impulses, and coordinate the contraction and relaxation of muscles. Current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a maximum of 2,300 mg of sodium per day, but notes that people who have high blood pressure or are likely to develop high blood pressure, should not consume more than 1,500 mg per day. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly 70 percent of U.S. adults should limit sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day.
It’s very easy to go above the daily recommended amount of salt without paying attention. About one teaspoon of salt equals 2,300 mg per day. While Americans are thought to be heavy-handed with the salt shaker, the truth is that the majority of salt in our diets comes from processed foods or eating out. Foods like cold cuts, pizza, soups, cheese, fast foods, and snacks like chips, pretzels, and popcorn, all have high amounts of salt. In addition to processed foods, sodium also hides in some natural products like vegetables, dairy products, shellfish, and a wide variety of foods that don’t typically taste salty. For example, one cup of low-fat milk has about 107 mg of sodium, while a slice of whole-wheat bread contains 132 mg.
For more ideas on how to reduce salt intake and make healthier eating choices, check out the Go Ask Alice! Food Choices and Health archives. If you’re a Columbia student, check out the get balanced! Guide for Healthier Eating for information relating to nutrition.
If you are still concerned about the amount of salt you should include in your diet, you may want to consider speaking to your primary care provider or a nutritionist. Columbia students on the Morningside campus can make an appointment with a registered dietitian at Medical Services using Open Communicator. Students at CUMC can do the same by contacting Student Health.