Monday, November 12, 2007

Got omega-3? Not so much

Love this quote: There's no need to buy "manufactured kibble" spiked with omega-3 fats…

A lot of the omega-3 adverts is misleading. Most of these packaged foods have plant-based omega-3s, which draw on inefficient conversion process by body, yielding a small fraction the benefit of fish.

Got omega-3? Not so much

Kim Painter, USA TODAY
Getting plenty of heart-healthy omega-3 fats used to mean eating fish or taking supplements.

But grocery aisles these days are packed with food labels boasting of omega-3 content. You can buy milk, eggs, yogurt, cereal, orange juice, butter substitutes, mayonnaise and other products that carry the claim.

Behind the boom: studies that show certain omega-3 fats can help prevent fatal heart attacks and offer other heart benefits; less conclusive research hints at brain and eye benefits and possible anti-cancer effects.

But don't cross fish off your shopping list yet, nutrition watchdogs say. That's because many of the new products contain little or none of the omega-3 fats backed by the most scientific evidence: DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid).

"The numbers are tiny, but the claims they are making are huge," says Katherine Tallmadge, a Washington, D.C., registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

"It's all very confusing," says Bonnie Liebman, a nutritionist with the Center for Science in the Public Interest. She reviewed omega-3 food claims for a recent newsletter article (at

Her conclusion: Consumers are in real danger of being misled. Even a careful label reader won't learn, for instance, that a carton of Breyers Smart DHA Omega-3 yogurt has less DHA than a teaspoon of salmon.

And that bottle of Hellmann's mayo proclaiming the product is "naturally rich in Omega-3 ALA"? True enough, Liebman says: Most mayonnaise is made with soybean oil, which is a source of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). But that kind of omega-3 fat, found most abundantly in flaxseed, has not been proven to convey the same health benefits as DHA plus EPA, she says.

One study even suggested high intakes of ALA might increase the risk of prostate cancer. But that finding "doesn't make any sense to anyone at this point" and needs more rigorous study, says William Harris, a heart researcher at the University of South Dakota.

Harris, who has advised companies making omega-3 products, says he sees little downside to the grocery-store glut as long as consumers know what they are getting. "But if the label just says omega-3 and makes no mention of DHA and EPA, there's a good chance it's ALA. So it can be a little deceptive."

Tallmadge's advice: "Eat fish." Those concerned about mercury, including pregnant women, can choose low-mercury varieties such as salmon and sardines, she says. Walnuts, ground flaxseeds, tofu and other whole foods containing ALA also are great additions to any diet, she adds, even if the evidence for that fat is not as compelling. There's no need to buy "manufactured kibble" spiked with omega-3 fats, she says.

Vegetarians can take algae oil supplements to get DHA, she says. Others who just don't eat enough fish can take fish oil supplements. But read the labels carefully, she warns, looking for levels of DHA plus EPA.

Studies suggest an average of 500 milligrams a day is beneficial, Liebman says. You can get that much by following the American Heart Association's advice to eat fish, particularly fatty fish, at least twice weekly. The association says patients with coronary heart disease should get 1,000 milligrams of DHA plus EPA daily.
HOW MUCH OMEGA-3 FAT? All food sources of omega-3 fats are not created equal. Here are the amounts of DHA and EPA, the omega-3 fats backed by the most promising studies, in some foods:

Food DHA+EPA (mg)
Atlantic salmon, farmed (6 oz. cooked) 3,650
Coho salmon, farmed (6 oz. cooked) 2,180
Swordfish (6 oz. cooked) 1,390
Bumblebee salmon (Red, Pink or Blueback, 3 oz.)1,200
Sardines in vegetable oil, drained (3 oz.)840
Fish sticks (6) 680
Shrimp (3 oz.) 270
Smart Balance Omega Plus Buttery Spread (1 tbsp.) 160
Land O Lakes Omega-3 Eggs (1) 150
Breyers Smart DHA Omega-3 yogurt (6 oz.) 30
Horizon Organic DHA Omega-3 milk (1 cup) 30
Silk Plus Omega-3 DHA Soy Milk (1 cup) 30

Source: Center for Science in the Public interest (

There's fish oil then there's fish oil

Another missive on fish oil, a pretty impactful one (in addition to just exercising). You may take fish oil already.

It’s certainly changed my life.

However, you may not “feel the difference” even though it’s suppose to be a naturally powerful brain booster.

Here’s some reasons why fish oil are less effective today than ever before:

- Times have changed; we now get “stripped-down” fish oil. Not the fish’s fault but our own obviously. Nowadays, we have to use molecular distillation to remove PCBs, mercury, and other heavy metals from all the fish we need but have polluted. Since the impurities’ molecular weights approximate that of the matrix of natural omega-3 fats (e.g. phospholipids, like our brain’s) that houses fish oil’s active DHA and EPA ingredients, distillation removes this natural fatty housing. This leaves a stripped down “triglyceride” form of fish oil.

- And we don’t eat fish oils with fatty meals to compensate. Low absorption of DHA and EPA result because both require binding to the right profile of fats for transport through the blood-brain barrier and for integration with our brain’s matrix of phospholipids (the 60% of brain matter that is omega-3 fats)…Phospholipids are the most natural and absorbable for our brain.

Only 30% absorption
So there’s roughly a 30% absorption rate for distilled fish oil capsules and liquids, which is boosted roughly by 5-10% by taking it with a fatty meal. Thus, if you’re taking 2 capsules a day, your body is likely, at best, using half that. Long story short, you usually have to take a lot more to feel the difference, as I do. And fish burps and digestion problems often get in the way.

Then there's Krill
Krill are small shrimp-like fish (blue whales eat 8,000lbs a day) found in great abundance, more easily replenished at the Antarctic, is low on food chain and thus are naturally pure (free of heavy metals, mercury etc.). Most importantly, they are naturally housed in a matrix of omega-3 phospholipids which our brain’s also based. Take with breakfast for better digestion; within 15 minutes you’ll feel the difference. You may be surprised how you lived without “real” fish oil for so long. It improves brain function, mental/emotional balance, memory recall, awareness / alertness. And so forth:

- For Men and Women Lipid Management - supports healthy blood lipids.
- Brain Nutrition - contains ultra-potent marine lipids which enhance brain function.Additional Benefits For Women
- Menstrual Discomforts - relieves emotional and physical menstrual discomforts.

Link below is replete with the science. Bottom line, krill’s the most natural, ultra-potent omega 3 to-date. Even though one capsule has the industry-average total DHA+EPA (240mg), it is an order magnitude more effective. And even though the small capsules do smell like, well, krill, there’s actually no fish burps as your body absorbs it entirely. Just don’t sniff the bottle and you should be fine J

Very highly recommended folks give Neptune krill oil a try; this is particularly safe and suitable if you’re pregnant or nursing.

Neptune Krill Oil
You can get Jarrow’s Neptune Krill Oil at a good price, with the usual hard core quality standards that Jarrows brings to the table. Some people have asked, so just to be clear, I’ve no affiliation with Jarrow.

Matter fact, FWIW, he was a Democrat who switched to be a right-wing Republican in order to support a less regulated supplements industry. More on point, he runs a tight ship, and his products are just one of the best, bar none. Neptune is the Canadian company that brought clean, abundant krill to the masses. Canadians have nurtured an entire industry and technology base for this, rivaling even Europe and Japan. Because of the pharmaceutical industry’s heavy influence, the US is a laggard here.

Jarrows and others redistribute Neptune’s krill product. Jarrow’s Neptune Krill Oil is about 33 cents a capsule online. It’s also at most health / supplement stores (except GNC) though the one near our house was sold out…krill oil seems popular these days.

You can check out a colorful end-to-end piece on Neptune Krill that is fairly accurate (you can also see a YouTube version here). For the science-minded, here's an ORAC measure: