In honor of National Cheat Food Awareness Month, we're teaching you how to cheat on your diet responsibly.
If you skimp on healthy fats — omega-3s in fish, supplements, and some plant and dairy products — you're missing out on a great way to help prevent a host of common problems. Here's a quick look at how good these fats really are, and the best ways to work them into your life.
1. Fight those aches
How omega-3s help: Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center found that nearly two-thirds of patients suffering from chronic neck and back pain stopped needing anti-inflammatory pain pills after taking fish-oil pills for 20 to 30 days. The key may be omega-3s' ability to fight inflammation.
How to get them: You don't necessarily have to take the pills. Cold-water ocean fish (salmon, mackerel, herring) and lake trout are the best sources of anti-inflammatory omega-3s.
2. Stay slim
How omega-3s help: Mood swings can lead to bring-on-the-brownies moments that sabotage your efforts to lose weight. Omega-3s may help by stabilizing your moods, researchers say.
How to get them: Try a high-quality omega-3 supplement for 30 days. If you don't notice a difference, increase your dosage.
3. Have more "up" days
How omega-3s help: Another form of omega-3s known as DHA makes up 25% of your body's brain fat and manages the production and flow of the feel-good chemical serotonin. People who battle depression seem to be DHA-deficient.
How to get them: Researchers believe a DHA supplement may be a gentler (and ultimately more effective) alternative to antidepressants. But don't count on just any supplement available at a drugstore or on the Web. Here's a list of omega-3 supplements judged in independent tests to be fresh and free of contaminants, and to have the amount of good fats listed on the label.
4. Breathe easier
How omega-3s help: Omega-3s may help reduce the inflammation associated with asthma. In a recent Indiana University study, patients taking fish-oil supplements were better at controlling exercise-triggered symptoms than people taking a placebo or just eating a normal diet were.
How to get them: A supplement is your best bet.
5. Keep your heart healthy
How omega-3s help: In addition to fighting inflammation, omega-3s may lower blood pressure and reduce clotting. And they may help fight diabetes too, because diabetes has a strong inflammatory component. Omega-3s also help cells lower blood sugar, a key to avoiding diabetes, researchers say.
How to get them: Eat plant foods like flax, walnuts, spinach, arugula, avocados, and canola oil, and soy products like full-fat tofu and edamame. They have a form of omega-3s called ALA that may help prevent heart disease, according to Harvard Medical School scientists. Also eat cold-water fish twice a week. And if you like eggs, shop for brands like Eggland's Best that contain high levels of omega-3s. Bon appétit.