Nov 19, 2009 (Orlando, Florida) – When it comes to getting the heart-healthy benefits of omega-3s in fish, preparation often matters, a study shows.

“The takeaway message is that it is better to bake or cook the fish than fry it,” says researcher Lixin Meng, MS, a PhD student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. And adding a pinch of low-sodium soy sauce will enhance the heart-healthy benefits, she tells WebMD.

Eating salted, dried, or fried fish, on the other hand, isn’t beneficial, Meng says. “But if it’s a fun occasion and you really want fried fish, do it the Japanese way – fry it instead of deep-frying it.”

If the thought of eating fish no matter how it’s cooked puts you off, take heart: Other researchers report that they genetically engineered soybeans to produce oil that increases the levels of certain omega-3 fatty acids in the blood .

“This soybean oil could be an effective alternative to fish oil as a source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids,” said researcher William Harris, PhD, director of cardiovascular health research at the University of South Dakota’s Sanford School of Medicine, Sioux. Falls.

Both new studies were presented at the 2009 American Heart Association (AHA) Scientific Sessions.

Omega-3 fatty acids lower the risk of the heart

The AHA recommends eating at least two servings of fatty fish, rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), per week to protect against heart disease, says AHA spokeswoman Alice Lichtenstein, DSc, nutritionist at Tufts University.

Salmon, sardines, tuna, halibut and mackerel are some of the fish rich in omega-3s.

“How you cook the fish, the type of fish and the amount of fish you consume [all impact its health-health benefits]but not enough attention was paid to how to get enough fatty acids in your diet, “says Lichtenstein, who was not involved in the work.

To close the knowledge gap, Meng and colleagues examined the source, type, amount, and frequency of consumption of omega-3 fatty acids in men and women of different ethnic groups.

The study enrolled 82,243 men and 103,884 women ages 45 to 75 in Los Angeles and Hawaii. Participants represented five major ethnic groups: African American, White, Hispanic, Japanese, and Hawaiian. Nobody had heart disease at the start of the study.

Over the next 10 years, 2,604 of the men and 1,912 of the women died of heart disease.

When the men in the study were divided into five groups based on their omega-3 intake, those in the highest group averaged around 3.3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day. Men in the lowest group consumed about 0.8 grams per day.

Men in the highest omega-3 group had a 23% lower risk of dying from heart disease than those in the lowest group, the study showed.

White, Japanese, and Hispanic men seemed to benefit more from omega-3s than African-American or Hawaiian men, possibly because of the way they cook the fish or genetic makeup, Meng says.

In women, the link between omega-3 fatty acid intake and heart disease wasn’t as strong, she says.

Baked fish vs. fried fish

The researchers did not directly compare cooked or baked fish to fried fish. But when the men were divided into three groups based on how often they had baked or cooked their fish, the men in the top third were 10% less likely to die of heart disease than those in the bottom third.

In addition, men and women who ate the most fried fish were 12% more likely to die of heart disease than those who ate the least fried fish.

Both men and women who ate the most salted or dried fish were 15% more likely to die of heart disease than those who ate the least.

The study also showed that low-sodium soy sauce and tofu protected women from death from heart disease. “Omega-3 fatty acids from plant sources can do more to improve women’s heart health than those from fish sources,” says Meng.

Genetically modified soybeans

The second study was designed to find a way to get more omega-3s into people’s diets without making them eat more fish, Harris says.

“The Japanese eat twice as much fish as the Americans and have a lot less heart disease. We can tell people to eat more fish, but that doesn’t mean they will,” he tells WebMD.

Just as we “fortify salt with iodine and put folic acid in processed grain products, we made the decision to put fatty acids in oil,” says Harris.

The study, which included 157 healthy volunteers, showed that the genetically modified soybean oil and the pure EPA capsules increased EPA levels in the body to a similar extent. In contrast, regular soybean oil did not increase EPA levels at all.

More testing is needed to make sure the high-tech oil has the same effects once it’s ingested in food, Harris says.

The next step, he says, is to incorporate the genetically modified – and tasteless – soybean oil into products like breakfast bars, yogurt, margarine, and salad dressings.

According to a spokesman for Monsanto Co., which developed the biotech oil and funded the new research, the engineered soybeans must also be approved by regulatory agencies at the Department of Agriculture before planting can begin.

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