If you have asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or are at risk for lung cancer, the antioxidants and other properties in these lung-healthy foods could be a breath of fresh air.
There are two types of polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega-3s and omega-6s, and research suggests the human body was designed to run on an equal balance of both. When that balance tips to too many omega-6s, it could cause inflammation. Western diets often dish out more than ten times as many omega-6s—which are in refined vegetable oils common in processed foods—as omega-3s, which could explain why adding omega-3s can help fight inflammation. Flaxseeds are another good source of omega-3s, specifically alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Throwing flaxseeds into your bowl of cereal in the morning is an easy way to up your intake, says Asha Devereaux, MD, MPH, a pulmonologist in Coronado, California, and co-chair of the American Thoracic Society’s Integrative Therapy interest group.
There are three main omega-3s—eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). EPA and DHA are the primary omega-3s that help with inflammation and they can be found in fatty fish and supplements. Dr. Devereaux recommends eating the seafood, rather than popping fish oil pills. “All supplements should be chewed in the foods they came in,” she says. “The Mediterranean diet is two to three servings of fish, not taking the supplement.” And more isn’t necessarily better; for example, people with COPD might only be able to digest a limited amount of omega-3s, and going overboard could make it break down, says Dr. Devereaux, who suggests eating fish twice a week.
If you aren’t a fan of seafood, you can get omega-3s from other sources. Contrary to mainstream belief, however, nuts aren’t equivalent to fatty fish, as ALA, the type of omega-3 fatty acid in plant sources, needs to be converted in order for the body to use it and the conversion isn’t very efficient, with only a small percentage of ALA making it all the way to DHA. Nuts are still beneficial, though, and walnuts are the number one nut source. If you’re looking for a non-fish source of ALA and DHA, check out Spirulina, a protein-dense freshwater algae. Here are 12 things you need to know if you want to go vegan.