This is a big confusing subject so hold on to your scientific hats!
Everyone seems to be in agreement that we need more Omega 3 in our diets. Not too much argument there. For the non-scientific of us, there are many clues that consuming a diet high in Omega 3’s is a good thing when you look at cultures that have that versus cultures that haven’t The very best examples of those that do have it, include the Okinawans in Japan, reputed to have perhaps the healthiest diet on the planet if longevity and quality life can be a barometer. Then we have the people of the Mediterranean region, who balance out their high saturated fat intake with plenty of Omega 3’s and thus have a low incidence of heart disease. You just need to look at the rates of disease in general and other inflammatory illness in countries like the US and Australia to think that perhaps they are doing something right and we are doing something very wrong.
SO WHAT IS OMEGA 3 & WHAT DOES IT DO?
Omega 3 fatty acids cannot be produced in the body and therefore must be consumed. They are known as essential nutrients for health because they are related to so many important processes. Two of the most important Omega 3’s are the long chain fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). All cells in the body are surrounded by a fatty membrane, which regulate messages in and out and these two unprounouncables help that. If the membrane is healthy then the messages can flow freely but if not then essential processes can slow down and cells eventually die. An excess of saturated fats can stiffen the membrane and too much Omega 6 fatty acids, because they compete for the same location on the cell, also cause issues. This is why a diet high in EPA and DHA is a good idea because they keep the cell membrane supple and pliable. EPA and DHA also have the very agreeable quality of boosting enzymes that burn body fat. You will agree, these two guys do something pretty cool stuff at the base level in the body.
HOW MUCH DO WE NEED?
It has been said we need anywhere from 500mg to 6g of fish oil depending on the condition you are trying to treat. Those with Arthritis for example may benefit from higher doses. Some experts say it is not the total amount of Omega 3 we need to take in but the ratio between Omega 6 and Omega 3, as the Mediterranean diet suggests as being the point. In our typical western diet we eat a truckload of Omega 6 but not a lot of 3. It has been estimated that our current ratio is anywhere from 10 to 40 times out of whack. So the question about supplementation would seem to be a resounding ‘yes we should’, especially if you are the typical person. If you eat a lot of fish of the cold water variety maybe you will be okay but not many people do and there is also a pretty legitimate risk of toxicity due to the issue of heavy metal contamination, so a change to a more fishy diet may not be the best option either. Don’t you hate that? Trying to do the right thing and yet penalised!
WHAT FOODS SHOULD I BE EATING?
So just in case you want to achieve the right balance of Omega 6 versus Omega 3 via food, here are some examples about what you might eat to get more health giving Omega 3 in your diet. Hint: should be more than a ‘just in case’ because supplementing is never the total answer. First start by limiting Omega 6 intake a little and then start eating more cold water fish such as mackerel, tuna, salmon, sardines and cod. If the risk of being contaminated is too high then consuming fish oil which is a concentrated source of Omega 3 fats may be a good alternative or addition. See below for various foods and their Omega 3 content.
1 can of sardines 1.3 grams
1 can of anchovies – almost 1 gram
1 table spoon of hemp seeds – 1 gram
1 table spoon of flaxseeds – 1.5 grams
1/4 cup of walnuts – 2.6 grams
DO I NEED TO SUPPLEMENT?
So again, yes supplementation is probably a good option but only if you get the right stuff. It is a murky murky world the supplement business and if you are not careful you could end up aggravating the very problem you are trying to reduce, which is inflammation, the root of all illness in the body. Consume rancid or poor quality fish oil and you would have been better off not having any. Just an additional quick note here regarding dietary sources, if fish can contain heavy metals why don’t we just consume more flax seed for example which has plenty of Omega 3 fatty acids too. Unfortunately the type of Omega 3 in this source is different. It is known as ALA and is not thought to have the same health benefits as it’s EP and DH cousins even though it can be transformed in to them. The process however is not that efficient.
So let’s investigate some technical detail about fish oil first before giving more information where you can make an educated decision on what to invest your hard earned dollars in. If you decide to go down the path of supplementation that is.
Thus this oil has been shown to improve and prevent many health issues. Such issues include but are not limited to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and the reduction of pain and swelling. Also, extensive research points towards fish oil being a great brain food, therefore helping with depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease, migraine headaches, epilepsy, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder. So the news get better and better.
Our body is not able to make Omega 3 or Omega 6 fatty acids therefore it is important that we get these essential fats from our diet. We don’t have to try too hard to get Omega 6 as it is present in so much of our common foods including (soybean oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, red meat eggs, etc) but Omega 3 is bit more challenging, which is why a good fish oil supplement is suggested for most people.
There is no definitive recommendation for the amount of omega 3 fatty acids we need, although it has been suggested that healthy individuals should take between 500 – 1000 milligrams daily and more if you suffer from arthritis. One significant study even suggest 7g was the dose required to get some significant results. But Australia’s Omega 3 Centre ( yes there is such a place) recommends the consumption of 500 milligrams of the essential fatty acids in the form of EPA and DHA which sounds pretty conservative to me given all the good stuff it seems to do, I guess it just depends on who you read and trust.
But let’s go with the idea that at least 1-2 grams per day is a darn good idea. There, a strong guide for now until you read something better or of course your doctor tells you something different and the disclaimer of course is to always get advice from your doctor before taking large doses of anything. Fish oil can thin the blood so there is particular reasons why you need medical advice around this depending on your current medical condition.
WHICH SUPPLEMENT IS THE BEST?
Now this is where the supplementation side comes into it, the majority of us are not consuming the recommended amounts of omega 3 fatty acids regularly. Being a Brisbane based Personal Trainer it is important for me to do my own research to determine what fish oil is the best value for money and intrinsic to that is quality, so I’m going share a few ideas with you on what to look for when choosing a good fish oil supplement. Tick off this checklist when purchasing one and I am sure you will end up with a good fish oil on your hands.
- Look for a fish oil that is not contaminated with mercury or other pesticides- purchase fish oil supplements from a reputable company that tests for these contaminants and is verified independently by a third party to determine its level of purity.
- Look for one that respects sustainability in their fishing practices because it’s the only sensible way forward for the planet.
- Make sure you choose one that has a minimum of 1000mg of EPA and DHA combined. Chowing down on less capsules or tablets is always a good idea.
- Ensure the fish oil is in a triglyceride form because the body will absorb it better and make sure it contains antioxidants- antioxidants such as astaxanthin or essential oils preserve and stabilise the fish oil and prevent it from going rancid.
- Freshness of the oil- if fish oil is exposed to heat, light or air it risks it going rancid- look for fish oils that are sealed well and not exposed to light (such as a dark container).
- Most fish oils are highly processed and can oxidize easily because Omega-3 fats are polyunsaturated, have a low heat threshold and can easily go rancid. So look for less processed.
- Price per tablet/serving- yes there are plenty of brands of fish oil that are relatively cheap and some that are extremely expensive. However, what needs to be looked at is the value and quality of the fish oil. First narrow your choices down by looking for a fish oil that covers the above criteria and from there you can determine the best value for money. And remember if you are consuming rancid stuff, you will in fact be paying to make the situation worse.
I have chosen 4 brands of well known fish oils and I am going to break them down for you in the table below.
|Brand||Serving Size||Total Omega-3||EPA||DHA||Total EPA and DHA||Tested for contaminants
(Fish Oil 1000)
|2 gel capsules||2000 mg||360mg||240mg||600mg||Yes
|$39.99 10c per capsule
|Optimum Omega||2 gel capsules||2196 mg||330mg||220mg||550mg||Yes
68c per capsule
|Nature’s way||2 gel capsules||2000mg||360mg||240mg||600mg||Yes
|$13.49 (6.5c per capsule)|
|Blackmores Omega triple||2 capsules||3000mg||1080mg||720mg||1800mg||Yes
|$29.00 (20c per capsule)|