Herbert Hoover once said, ” Fishing is much more than fish. It is the great occasion when we may return to the fine simplicity of our forefathers.” Humans have been eating fish since the dawn of time. Fishermen supplied fish to inland communities, as remains of fish, including bones and scales; to preserve them for transport, the fish were first smoked or dried and salted. Merchants also imported fish, sometimes from as far as from Egypt, where pickled roe was an export article. Even in the later Persian, Greek, and Roman periods, the cost of preserving and transporting fish must have meant that only wealthier inhabitants of the highland towns and cities could afford it, or those who lived close to the sources, where it was less expensive.
Fish is one of the healthiest foods in the world. It has many essential nutrients like proteins, iodine, and other minerals and vitamins. While all fish are excellent high-quality protein options, those with the highest amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids are packed with the most heart, brain, eye, and overall health benefits. Check out this chart (a printout of the chart is available here).
What Are Omega-3s?
Omega-3s are a specific type of polyunsaturated fatty acid. That means they contain more than one double bond in their chemical structure. The “3” refers to where in the chemical structure the first double bond occurs.
Why do I need omega-3? Your body is able to synthesize saturated fatty acids, but you don’t have an enzyme that allows you to stick a double bond in the right spot to create omega-3s yourself.
In other words, your body can’t make these fats on its own, so you need to get them from your diet or from omega-3 supplements (such as omega-3 fish oil or capsules).
Studies show that Omega-3’s can reduce the risk of heart disease, depression, dementia, and arthritis, and improve overall happiness.
The four most common omega-3s found in food are ALA, EPA, ETA and DHA.
- Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA): This plant-based omega-3 is found in green, leafy vegetables; flaxseeds and chia seeds; and canola, walnut and soybean oils (although those rancid oils are not ones I generally recommend). ALA is known as a short-chain omega-3. This means your body has to convert it into longer-chained EPA and DHA to synthesize it. This process is rather inefficient, and only about 10 percent of the ALA you consume is converted to the long-chain version your body needs (although this percentage is slightly higher for women).
- Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA): EPA is a 20-carbon fatty acid found in oily fish, algae oil and krill oil. Your body is able to synthesize this molecule in its original form. EPA and DHA are the omega-3s your body needs in high quantities to achieve the benefits they offer.
- Eicosatetraenoic Acid (ETA): ETA is a lesser-known omega-3 fatty acid that also contains 20 carbons, like EPA, but only four bonds instead of five. It is found richly in roe oil and green-lipped mussel. Not only is it anti-inflammatory, like the other omega-3s, but ETA can also limit your body’s production of the inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid (ARA). In fact, ETA redirects the enzyme that normally creates ARA to convert it to EPA instead.
- Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA): This 22-carbon molecule is also found in oily fish, krill oil, algae oil and omega-3 fish oil supplements. Your body converts some DHA molecules back to EPA in order to keep them at fairly equal levels if you consume more DHA.
Unfortunately, these are found in much more abundance than omega-3s in the standard American diet, although your body craves a 1:1 ratio to keep inflammation low. Most modern diets contain a ratio closer to 20:1 or 30:1 omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.
In 2009, the Harvard School of Public Health published a review of individual risk factors that are attributable to specific deaths. By its estimates, low omega-3 intake is eighth on the list of the most serious risk factors that contribute to death, labeling it responsible for up to 96,000 deaths in the U.S. each year.
Omega-6s are prevalent in Western diets, however too much of these fats can cause various problems related to inflammation. The ideal ratio of omega-6 foods to omega-3 foods is about equal to, or at least at, a 2:1 ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s.
RATIO MATTERS!! EAT MORE OMEGA-3!
What are the risks of consuming too little omega-3s (plus too many omega-6s)? A lack of omega-3s can contribute to:
- Inflammation (sometimes severe)
- Higher risk for heart disease and high cholesterol
- Digestive disorders
- Joint and muscle pain
- Mental disorders like depression
- Poor brain development
- Cognitive decline
The American Heart Association recommends 1,000 milligrams of EPA+DHA per day for patients with coronary heart disease.
- Fish is a great source of protein without the high saturated fat found in other types of meat.
- Fish helps in reducing the bad cholesterol level in the body, according to the Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings.
- It reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes the two most leading causes of premature death. Studies have shown that people who consume fish regularly have lower risk of heart attacks, strokes, and heart disease in general.
- Keeping arteries clear of damage, omega-3s may aid your body in preventing plaque buildup responsible for hardening and restriction of the arteries.
- One study found that three servings of salmon each week successfully lowered blood pressure in young, overweight people over an eight-week period. While this is not definitive proof that omega-3s lower blood pressure, it’s an encouraging preliminary result. The DASH diet used to control hypertension also emphasizes fish for heart health.
- Fatty fish, such as salmon, trout, sardines, tuna, and mackerel, are considered to be the healthiest because of their omega-3 and vitamin D content. Most people lack these nutrients, which are known to prevent many diseases.
- According to a review published by the American Journal of Cardiology, “The results indicate that fish consumption is associated with a significantly lower risk of fatal and total coronary heart disease (CHD). These findings suggest that fish consumption may be an important component of lifestyle modification for the prevention of CHD.
- The American College of Rheumatology has found that regular consumption of fish reduces rheumatoid arthritis.
- Fish reduces the risk of type 1 diabetes in children and of autoimmune disease in adults, because of its omega-3 fatty acids. In children, fish also reduce the risk of asthma by 24%.
- Regular fish consumption is linked to a 42% lower risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) that causes vision impairment and blindness. Another study showed 53% decreased risk of wet AMD, thanks to omega-3 found in fatty fish.
- Omega-3 is essential for growth and development. It is recommended that pregnant and breastfeeding women include 340 grams of salmon, sardines, or trout (low mercury fish) per week as a source of omega-3, which is very important for the brain and eye development.
- Vitamin D deficiency is linked to sleep disorders. A study among 95 middle-aged men showed that consuming salmon three times a week improved sleep and daily functioning.
- Fatty fish like salmon and herring area a great source of vitamin D, which is lacking in over 40% of Americans. A single serving (113 grams) of cooked salmon contains 100% of recommended daily intake of vitamin D. A tablespoon of fish oil, such as cod liver oil, provides 200% of the recommended daily vitamin D. Having an autism home supplements and food can be tricky. For my family we love a chewable and vegan friendly supplement when we need extra vitamin D. You can find it here.
- Fish have proved to help in preventing low mood, decreased energy, and depression. Omega-3 helps fight depression, mental conditions, and bipolar disorder, and enhances the effectiveness of antidepressant medications.
- Some studies have found correlations between omega-3s and a decrease in violence, antisocial behavior and borderline personality disorder.
- Fish can help in delaying the normal mental decline that comes with aging, as well as prevent serious neuro-degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. Those who eat fish weekly have more gray matter, which is the brain’s major functional tissue responsible for memory and regulating emotions.
Simple Tasty Recipes
Click on the recipe titles to be taken to recipe card for directions!
It’s ideal to get your fatty acids from omega-3 foods since they provide other nutrients that benefit health as well, such as vitamin K, folate, phosphorus, etc.
Here are the top omega-3 foods to emphasize:
- Atlantic Mackerel
- Salmon Fish Oil
- Cod Liver Oil
- Chia Seeds
- Alaskan Salmon (wild-caught)
- Flaxseeds (ground)
- Albacore Tuna
- White Fish
- Hemp Seeds
- Egg Yolks
Are there any side effects or risks?
The best thing about omega-3 foods and supplements is that omega-3 fatty acids don’t have any known drug interactions or adverse omega-3 side effects, according to some reliable sources.
Why might omega-3s be bad for you? The major precaution when introducing more omega-3s into your diet generally comes from the byproducts found in some seafood, such as mercury and other industrial chemicals.
When you purchase high-quality omega-3 supplements you won’t consume these contaminants, according to a number of tests that show the processing to create the supplements filters out the majority of concerning toxins.
As always, if you decide to start using a supplement to boost your intake, make sure you do so under the supervision of your physician/naturopath, who can monitor and advise you in the event you experience an adverse reaction.