Get Those Omega-3s Without Paying Mega Prices
You have probably noticed omega-3-enhanced foods popping up everywhere lately, from eggs to milk to baby food. Omega-3 fatty acids, found naturally in salmon and other foods, are good for your brain, your eyesight and your heart.
Because they're important to neural development, getting enough is especially a concern for pregnant women, babies, children and nursing mothers. The problem is getting them cost effectively. This is a challenge for many households -- like mine -- because it becomes a concern just as families are first facing the many financial pressures of parenthood.
One of the cheapest natural ways of getting omega-3s is eating canned tuna fish. Unfortunately, high mercury levels in tuna threaten those same growing brains that the fish's fatty acids would help. That leaves salmon and fortified foods, or supplements.
Although salmon does not tend to have high mercury levels, it has its own issues. The most affordable type of fresh salmon is farmed salmon, but some studies warn that it should be avoided due to another kind of contamination -- PCBs. Wild salmon, recommended as healthier and better for the environment, can be quite pricey, running anywhere from $13 to $20 a pound.
I stretched my budget to buy farmed salmon ($7 to $9 a pound) once a week or so until I realized that this fish might be doing us as much harm as good. Now, I buy canned wild salmon, which is much cheaper at about $3 to $6 for a 14-ounce can. The taste is nowhere near as good as fresh salmon, but it's not a bad stand-in for tuna in the old workhorse sandwich. With the money I save buying canned salmon instead of fresh, I splurge on fresh wild-caught salmon every once in awhile and we really, really enjoy it.
As for omega-3-fortified food, the price hike can be significant, especially with eggs. Sometimes the price difference is partly due to the fact that the brand that offers an omega-3 fortified version is also the high-end brand, and the store brand has no similar option.
We've solved that one at our house by taking the advice of Dr. Oz of Oprah fame: We keep a little flaxseed oil in the fridge and a bag of flax meal in the freezer. Dr. Oz says he has oatmeal with omega-3-rich flax oil every morning for breakfast, and I often do the same. But really, you can pour a little flax oil on any dish -- you just can't cook it. It's pretty much tasteless, an advantage when slipping it past suspicious children and husbands.
Flax meal can be added to all kinds of recipes in place of some of the flour.
There are a couple of downsides to the flax plan. One, many sources say the omega-3s in flax are not as good as those in fish. Two, it may not be for everyone in the family: My pediatrician advised against fortifying our infant's food with flax oil, warning that if the baby aspirated the oil it could damage her lungs. Talk to your own pediatrician about this. There are of course omega-3-fortified formulas, baby foods and baby yogurt out there, but since my baby is breastfed (the price is right), I just try to increase my own fatty acid intake so she'll get it from me.
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