6.    The omega-3 fats in fish are interchangeable with those found in flax and walnuts.

The main omega-3 fat found in plants, alpha-Linolenic acid (ALA), is what's known as a short-chain omega-3, while those in fish, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), are referred to as long-chain omega-3s.

The omega-3 fats in fish are interchangeable with those found in flax and walnuts

"The active omega-3s in the body—the ones that need to get to certain sites, like the brain and the retina, and accumulate there to exhibit the beneficial effects are DHA and EPA," explains Dr. Bruce Holub, an omega-3 researcher and professor emeritus in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Guelph. It's these long-chain omega-3s that have been shown to improve heart health, reduce in flam-mation, and possibly lower the risk for certain eye diseases.

Since the body can't manufacture ALA from scratch, it's the only omega-3 dubbed an "essential" fatty acid. But while our bodies can convert ALA into DHA and EPA, the process, which takes place primarily in the liver, isn't very efficient. "In all of the human studies done to date that have assessed the capacity for conversion, the average conversion efficiency from ALA all the way to DHA has been estimated to be about four per cent," Holub notes, with women scoring somewhat better than men.

That means the easiest way to get the amount of DHA and EPA your body needs is to eat fatty fish or take a fish-oil supplement. Dietitians of Canada and the American Dietetic Association suggest getting 500 mg of DHA plus EPA per day for general health, and the American Heart Association recommends double that amount for people who have coronary heart disease. To put that in perspective, 85 grams (3 oz) of wild Atlantic salmon contain more than 1,400 mg of DHA and EPA. However, in Canada, "our average intake is only about 125 mg of DHA plus EPA per day," Holub says, compared with 1,000 mg for residents of Japan.

Want to get some of your long-chain omega-3s from other foods? Check labels for levels of DHA, dietitian Tsang advises, since many products advertising added omega-3s contain only ATA. An omega-3 egg, for instance, contains about 80 mg of DHA, along with roughly 300 mg of ALA. (Omega-3 eggs are obtained by feeding hens flaxseed: chickens are capable of turning about 20 per cent of the ALA they consume into DHA.)

7.    Everyone can reap health benefits from taking a multivitamin.

There’s no evidence multivitamins are beneficial to healthy people 55 or older, Kirkland says. What's more, some have the potential to cause harm: taking a formulation with too much extra iron may cause liver damage. Marcone notes, while an overabundance of folic acid from supplements and fortified foods (such as flour) can mask the symptoms of B12 deficiency (a common condition that, if unchecked, can lead to problems such as permanent nerve damage) and encourage the development of certain cancers. (On the other hand, it's virtually impossible to overdo folic acid by eating foods containing folate, which our bodies turn into folic acid.)

Description: There’s no evidence multivitamins are beneficial to healthy people 55 or older

There’s no evidence multivitamins are beneficial to healthy people 55 or older

Consequently, "rather than taking supplements on your own, it's a good idea to have a regular physical and blood work," Kirkland says. A knowledgeable health professional can evaluate your nutritional status and, if necessary, recommend an appropriate supplement. If you decide to self-prescribe nonetheless, make sure you choose a multivitamin formulated for someone of your age and sex; for example, those intended for people 55 or older typically contain little or no iron. (Note: Health Canada does recommend that everyone over 50 take 400 IU of supplemental vitamin D per day, because, at that age, our skin becomes less efficient at manufacturing the nutrient in response to sunlight exposure. Since 10 to 30 per cent of people over 50 have difficulty absorbing sufficient B12 from food, the agency also suggests people in this age group eat foods fortified with B12 or consider taking a supplement.)

A Raw Chef? Really?

To the uninitiated, the phrase "raw food" may conjure up mental images of unpeeled carrots and broccoli florets, but the reality is much more complicated—and, reportedly, delicious. For instance, in his raw-food classes, Toronto chef Doug McNish whips up delectable offerings such as chocolate mousse, red-beet ravioli with creamy cashew ricotta cheese and red-pepper marinara sauce, and berry cashew cheesecake squares.

The theory behind eating raw is that cooking at temperatures above 118°F (47.8°C) destroys much of the natural nutritional content of foods, so any heating is done below this threshold, sometimes using a food de-hydrator. (A high-powered blender and food processor are two other key tools in the raw kitchen.) Some recipes also call for soaking or sprouting nuts and seeds, which releases enzymes that make the food easier to digest and increases levels of certain nutrients as much as two- to three fold, according to McNish. His cookbook Eat Raw, Eat Well: 400 Raw, Vegan and Gluten-Free Recipes (Robert Rose) came out this spring.


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