On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Fish for Heart Health and Olive Oil Inquiry

DEAR DR. BLONZ: I recently had heart bypass surgery after blockages were found in my coronary arteries. I am looking for my own brand of a healthy lifestyle to make sure that this is my last visit to an operating table. One natural component is diet, and I have read all these handouts and websites about fats. I have read that the oils in certain cold-water fish are beneficial. One of my favorite foods has become sardines because they are easily available in the supermarket. I looked at the label of the brand I buy, and I have determined that I have been having 11 grams total fat, 2 grams saturated fat and 131 milligrams cholesterol. Given my history, should I discontinue eating sardines? -- M.M., Tulsa, Oklahoma

DEAR M.M.: There is no need to stop eating sardines if you enjoy them. The totals you cite are for a 3.5-ounce tin. According to my nutrient database, aside from its 11 grams of fat, one tin of sardines also contains about 23 grams of protein and 350 milligrams of calcium, along with other nutrients. Sardines have a moderate fat content, and they do contain the heart-healthy fats EPA and DHA, collectively known as the omega-3s. The key to a healthy diet, however, is variety and moderation. You could be eating a variety of fish, not only sardines, but the emphasis should be that your meals include whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables and fiber-rich grains. Combine this with the non-food essential element -- a daily serving of physical activity -- and you'll be on the road to the healthy lifestyle you seek. I don’t know how recently you went through your bypass, so proceed with caution, taking into account the advisories of your physician. Consider also enlisting the guidance of a trainer with expertise in this area as you weave this important aspect of healthful living into your daily life.

DEAR DR. BLONZ: This is to help settle an office argument. Does the extra virgin vs. virgin grade of an olive oil reflect the fatty-acid proportion as well as other health values? -- F.S., Tucson, Arizona

DEAR F.S.: A couple of things to consider here. First, the main fatty acid in all types of olive oil is oleic acid, which is a monounsaturated fatty acid. The grade of an olive oil reflects the level of “acidity,” which indicates the level of free fatty acids, those not attached to a triglyceride in the oil. Higher grades of olive oil have only a small amount of free fat. Extra-virgin olive oil must have no more than 0.8 percent acidity. Virgin olive oil can have no more than 2 percent acidity. This means that, as a general rule, all grades of olive oil will have comparable proportions of monounsaturated, saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. When considering potential health attributes, I favor the extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO). This is the first oil out during the pressing of the olives. EVOO has higher levels of the olive’s protective assets, the main one being the plant polyphenols that are there to protect the olive and its seed. Research evidence suggests that these substances can be beneficial for us as well (see b.link/olive30).

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.