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Five Omega-3 Champs

Eat More Salmon, Sardines, Smelt, Shad or Anchovies for Better Health

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We hear a lot about eating more omega-3 fatty acids these days. It seems like every week a new study comes out that highlights another health benefit to eating this "good fat," which is found in fatty fish that swim in cold water. Some of us remember fish used to be called "brain food." Omega-3s are the reason why. They are a powerful anti-inflammatory that helps the body heal all sorts of problems, from poor eyesight to Alzheimer's disease. Fish are the primary source of omega-3 fatty acids, but not all fish are created equal: Here are five fish with extremely high levels of omega-3s.

1. Salmon

Whole salmon on ice
Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images
Salmon is easily the most accessible and familiar of the five top fish for omega-3s. Every supermarket carries salmon, and nearly every seafood cook has at least one favorite salmon recipe to go to. The best salmon to eat to get the most omega-3s would be king salmon, also called chinook salmon, which are wild-caught from California to Alaska. Interestingly, canned salmon is also high in this good fat. The leaner sockeyes and silver salmon are still high in omega-3s, just not so much as chinooks. Farmed salmon, which is the most common form in supermarkets, is iffy. You are what you eat, and many farmed salmon are fed land-based feed -- this lowers their omega-3 levels. Wild is best, but farmed is still OK.

2. Sardines

Atlantic sardines
Hank Shaw
Sardines, especially fresh ones, are delicious, plentiful and inexpensive. Serve them grilled or baked with a tomato sauce. Can't find fresh ones? Canned sardines are just as good if you're looking to maximize your omega-3 intake: Serve canned sardines broiled on toast for a classic appetizer.

3. Smelt

Fresh smelt
Hank Shaw
Smelt are widely available in the freezer section of your supermarket, most often cleaned already. These little fish are made for the fryer -- batter them up, maybe with a light Japanese tempura batter -- and eat them like French fries.

4. Shad

American shad
Holly A. Heyser
American shad may be tough to find unless you live on the coast. Strictly a springtime delicacy, shad is milder than sardines or herring, but they have many bones you must work around. If you find shad at your market in the East, you may find boneless fillets. Out West, you will have to deal with the bones yourself; I offer several options here on this site.

5. Anchovies

Fresh Pacific anchovies
Hank Shaw
Almost all anchovies you will find are preserved, because they go bad very quickly. If you find fresh anchovies, grill or broil them and serve them simply. Preserved anchovies can be added to tomato sauces or -- sparingly -- to pizza or other Mediterranean dishes. Look for boquerones, or Spanish white anchovies, in fine markets: These are cured in salt and vinegar and are much fresher and tastier than the brick-colored anchovies you'll find in jars.
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