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Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2006 Sep;75(3):129-33. Epub 2006 Jul 11.

N-3 fatty acids in the Mediterranean diet.

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Department of Pharmacological Sciences, University of Milan, Via Balzaretti, 9, 20233 Milan, Italy.


Fats in the diet of countries in the Mediterranean basin are typically represented by olive oil, but the high consumptions of vegetables and to some extent also of fish result in appreciable intakes of n-3 fatty acids. In fact, various plant foods are relatively rich in the 18 carbon n-3 fatty acid, alpha linolenic acid, ALA, while the generally moderate consumption of fish, except for certain communities living close to the sea, contributes to the intake of the long-chain n-3. Although the amounts of fats in ALA-containing plant foods are low, the relatively high concentrations of this fatty acid and the large size of the portions consumed allow to reach appreciable doses of ALA, an n-3 fatty acid that has been shown to exert favourable effects on various relevant factors in cardiovascular protection. In addition, consumption of relatively small amounts of certain typical dry fruit components of the diet such as walnuts, provides a sizable supply of ALA that is also rather efficiently converted to the ALA derivative eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Additional rather typical wild food components of the diet in certain countries, i.e. snails and frogs, are also appreciable sources of ALA. It appears thus that the consumption of typical Mediterranean foods provides relevant intakes of n-3 fatty acids, especially ALA, that appears to be efficiently absorbed and also transformed at least to the long-chain derivative EPA.

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