Fish And Omega 3
Almost every other health article nowadays is raving about the wonders of omega 3 fatty acids. You may not know exactly what DHA or EPA stands for but you know the numerous health benefits they provide. It is widely known that you can get your omega 3 fatty acids from a wide variety of food sources, but fish are still the best sources of DHA and EPA. Here are the facts you need to know about fish and omega 3s.
Getting to know Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that are important to our body’s many functions. They are present in the fatty layers of cold-water fish and shellfish, krills, oils of plants and nuts, flaxseed, walnuts, algae oil, fortified foods, and supplements.
Omega 3 fatty acids are divided into two main types, the long-chain omega 3 fatty acids and the short-chain. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are the long-chain omega 3 fatty acids and are found in fish and shellfish. DHA can also be found algae oil. ALA (alpa-linolenic acid) is the short-chain omega 3 fatty acid and is mainly found in plants. ALA is converted in the body into DHA and EPA, but inefficiently, so the health benefits from ALA are not as potent.
Fishing for Omega 3 Facts
Fish are still the best sources of omega 3 fatty acids. In addition, they are low in saturated fat and are high in protein, vitamins, and minerals. The recommended amount of fish to consume weekly is two 8-ounce servings. It has been found that DHA and EPA are better absorbed by the body when they are derived from fish and fortified foods instead of fish oil.
The excitement about the benefits of omega 3 fatty acids to our health is due to the fact that omega 3s provide protection against a wide range of diseases. These include cancer, asthma, depression, cardiovascular disease, ADHD, and autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Experts have explained that the broad spectrum of conditions that omega 3s provide benefit to is related to the anti-inflammatory feature of omega 3 fatty acids. Inflammation often leads to a wide variety of chronic conditions and omega 3 fatty acids, when taken in sufficient amounts, directly impacts the likelihood of inflammatory-related diseases.
The Omega-6 Factor
Omega 6, on the other hand, is present in the foods that most of us consume in large amounts, namely crackers, cookies, and corn-fed beef. Most of our diets too, unfortunately, do not contain enough fish and fresh vegetables, which are the primary sources of omega 3s. This results in an imbalance of omega 6 and omega 3 in our bodies. While omega 3 fatty acids reduces inflammation, omega 6 promotes it.
Fishing for Health Benefits
Although most studies about the benefits of omega 3 fatty acids were done using supplements in doses higher than what you can get from eating 2 servings of fish every week, getting your omega 3 fatty acids from fish will provide you with the same health benefits.
Food for the brain
The fatty acid DHA is one of the most prevalent in our brains and helps the brain to function properly. A greater supply of DHA has been shown to improve brain function and to reduce the risk of brain-related conditions, such as Alzheimer’s. For people older than 65 years, fish consumption also lowers the risk brain damage, which in turn is linked to higher rates of stroke and cognitive decline.
A study of fish-eaters compared cognitive test scores depending on the number of variety of fish they eat. Those who ate more varieties of fish scored higher than those who consumed fewer types of fish. In addition, compared to people who rarely consume fish, fish-eaters are healthier. Their likelihood of having epilepsy, asthma, chronic bronchitis, and osteoporosis are decreased.
Another study was conducted which showed that men who ate salmon, herring, mackerel, and similar fish had a reduced likelihood of developing prostate cancer. The risk is reduced further when the number of servings of fish consumed per week is increased.
Post-menopausal women who eat two or more servings of fish per week have healthier arteries compared to women who consumed less. Eating tuna or other types of dark fish at least once a week increases the health benefits.
Benefits versus Risks
The health benefits we can get from eating fish are indeed numerous. However, we should also be aware of the contaminants that may be present in certain seafood. The most common toxins in seafood are mercury and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). The use of PCBs and also DDTs has been banned but these chemicals and many others are still being used in many parts of the world. They contaminate the air, soil, and water, resulting in contaminated fish.
To avoid consuming seafood contaminated with toxins, it is always better to choose smaller fish or fish that are lower in the food chain. These fish may have less contaminants because their main food are plants compared to the bigger fish and fish that are higher in the food chain which eat other smaller animals.
For children and pregnant and breastfeeding women, however, it is best to completely avoid fish that contain high levels of toxins. Shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish are known to contain high levels of mercury.
The safer choices of fish include canned light tuna, salmon (especially the wild variety), catfish, Pollock, and krills.
Conflict in Wisdom
There are other studies which contradict the claim that people should be careful about their fish consumption, especially because of the toxins that may be present in fish.
Some studies showed that women who ate more than 12 ounces of fish a week when they were pregnant had children who scored better on tests of verbal IQ, social behavior, and development and communication than children whose mothers avoided fish consumption. Some studies have also suggested that limiting a child’s fish consumption could do more harm than good to his developing neurological system and the benefits of eating more outweighs the risks of mercury poisoning.
The warnings about the toxins in seafood have resulted in people consuming less fish than is healthy. A poll that was conducted showed that some parents are feeding their children less fish that what is required for healthy growth and development.
Fishing for Rewards
- You get more omega 6 in your diet from eating more foods that are rich in polyunsaturated fats, like soybean, corn, and sunflower oil, among many others. Omega 6 reduces your body’s ability to absorb and metabolize the more beneficial omega 3 fatty acids.
- Wild fish are better choices than farmed fish. Wild fish feed on smaller fish whose main source of food is algae. Since algae is a good source of DHA, wild fish are great sources of omega 3 fatty acids. On the other hand, farmed fish are fed corn and grain, which are high in omega 6. Also most farmed fish have higher levels of toxins in their system.
- You should also be careful when choosing canned tuna. Canned light tuna tends to have less mercury than tuna steaks and albacore tuna. Try to check fish guides for more information about toxins in fish.
- As much as possible, buy the freshest fish you can find. Longer exposure of fish to the oxygen in the air makes it more rancid and makes it lose some of its omega 3 benefits. You can always smell the fish to test if it’s rancid.
- Toxins are not removed when you cook your fish. However, removing the fish skin and surface fat before eating your fish minimizes your exposure.