You Don’t Need Fat From Dead Fish to Be Healthy
Fish and fish oil hype is everywhere, inundating news stories, ads, and doctors’ offices. The fatty component of dead fish is touted as the magic bullet for just about any health concern, from cardiovascular disease to poor memory.
There’s only one problem with these claims – they are not true. However, the fish and fish oil ballyhoo does hold a core of important information. If you want to benefit, it’s critical to sort the fact from the fiction.
Here’s the deal. You need two types of essential fatty acids: omega-6s and omega-3s. These substances are called “essential” because they are necessary for health and you can get them only from food.
Omega-6s are generally pro-inflammatory. Inflammation is a normal body function necessary for survival. Acute inflammation fights off infections and is an integral part of the process of healing from injury.
Omega-3s, on the other hand, are anti-inflammatory. These fats temper the action of omega-6s to keep inflammation from getting out-of-control and damaging your body.
The important thing is the balance between omega-6s and omega-3s. You really don’t need much of either on a daily basis. But for every molecule of omega-3s that you eat, you should consume one to three molecules of omega-6s.
The problem is that most people eat ten to twenty molecules of omega-6s for every one of omega-3s. Since omega-6s are
concentrated in most animal foods and vegetable oils, to be in balance it’s essential to cut way back on these foods. Eliminating these choices from your diet is the best course. You’ll still get plenty of omega-6s from whole plant foods.
Omega-3s on the other hand, are in fewer foods. These fats are most abundant in wild plants, but most people eat food grown on farms. Common plant foods that are excellent sources of omega-3s include ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and leafy greens. Omega-3s are also found in certain kinds of fish and fish oil – hence the hype.
Some people worry that their bodies cannot process the “short chain” omega-3s in plant foods into the more active “long chain” varieties, EPA and DHA, found in fish. Since our ancestors thrived for millions of years without omega-3 supplements or regularly (if ever, in most cases) eating fish, this concern seems a bit nonsensical.
Moreover, people on plant-based diets have measurably lower rates of heart disease that those who eat animals, so they don’t seem to be lacking anything vital. A recent European study demonstrated that even high levels of fish oil supplements did not decrease markers of inflammation in healthy adults, so the long-chain fats alone are of questionable value. What counts is the overall pattern of eating.
However, if you are truly concerned, you can assure you meet your full quota of long-chain omega-3s by taking widely-available supplements made from marine algae.
Now that you have this basic understanding, consider seven important reasons why you should aim to get all your omega-3s from plants rather than from fish or fish oil supplements.
First, plants are the original source of the omega-3 fatty acids in fish. These animals consume omega-3-rich marine algae rather than making these fats themselves. Wouldn’t you rather get your nutrients right from the source, rather than recycled second-hand through another creature?
Second, fish concentrate the dangerous persistent organic pollutants swamping our oceans, as well as mercury, a hazardous heavy metal. Plant omega-3 sources have way lower amounts of both these toxic substances. Lab studies show that even distilling fish oil still leaves behind unacceptable amounts of persistent organic pollutants, which disrupt your body’s hormones and threaten fetal and early childhood development.
Third, plant food sources of omega-3s contain a rainbow of nutrients. You will be treating yourself to vitamins, minerals, fiber, and a spectrum of phytochemicals (beneficial substances that protect your body that are found only in plants). Fish, on the other hand, offers less of value. Both the plants and fish (but not their isolated oils) contain protein, a commonplace nutrient that pretty much nobody in developed countries lacks. Cholesterol is abundant in fish, and absent in plant foods.
Fourth, fish may be infested with parasites and bacteria that cause food poisoning. Plants are significantly less likely to have these problems.
Fifth, plant sources of omega-3s cost a lot less. You can get a pound of organic flaxseed for about two dollars and grind it at home with a coffee grinder. You certainly won’t get much omega-3s from fish for such a low cost. Note: be sure to grind your flaxseed so you can get all the goodness out of them.
Sixth, fish is not a sustainable source of omega-3s. With the human population growing and the fish population plummeting, there are not remotely enough fish for everyone. You can help counter overfishing and leave marine ecosystems to recover by spurning fish.
Finally, plants are prettier than dead fish and smell way more appealing. Enjoy your food. Once you stop eating fish for a few weeks, your taste for them will start to fade as you learn to appreciate appetizing whole plant food choices.
So you can find the truth yourself behind the hype. Eat a varied diet based on whole plant foods, with marine algae supplements or, better yet, ground flax seed, and watch your health truly thrive.
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Blog posting by Janice Stanger, Ph.D. Janice authored The Perfect Formula Diet, the smart person’s nutrition book built on sustainable food choices. Enjoy six kinds of whole foods for permanent, hunger-free weight loss and health.
Tags: essential fatty acids, fish, fish oil, getting healthy, hype, Janice Stanger, marine algae supplements, omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids, phytochemicals, Plant-based nutrition, whole foods