A Spoonful of Omega-3
Zeshan Sadek, MBBS, & Saad Asrar, MS Food Science
If you follow health trends, research has proven that Omega-3 does wonders for your health. Studies link it to better memory and concentration, fighting depression and anxiety, stimulating brain development even before birth and in treating Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Research by doctors in Denmark have seen fish oils help in the treatment of type 2 Diabetes as they lower the amount of fats present in the blood.
The current interest in the use of fish oils has its origins in the Greenland Eskimos diet. Heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and psoriasis were found to be relatively low amongst the Greenland Eskimos. Their staple foods consist mainly of seal meat, seal fat and seasonal fish products.
Omega-3’s are an essential fatty acid (EFA). Because they can’t be produced by the body they must be supplied by the diet. EFA’s are unsaturated fatty acids and like all fats they provide energy, but are also vital for normal growth, promoting good health and preventing sickness. EFA’s also help increase fluidity of cell membranes, keeping toxins out and bringing nutrients into cells. They reduce inflammation and keep blood from clotting by keeping the blood vessels dilated. Omega-3 specifically helps treat rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, the latter being a painful condition where the cartilage between joints gets worn out due to wear and tear. Asthma, psoriasis and eczema are other ailments where Omega-3 can come to the rescue.
Fish oils are ‘good fats’ and contain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The fatty acid contents of fish oil depend upon the species, season, temperature, fresh or salt water and the fish’s gender. The female, with its roe (eggs), is a much richer source of fatty acids than the male. Cold-water fish are the richest sources of DHA and EPA, for example, anchovies from Antarctica. The same is true of sardines. Making fish a meal three times a week is an excellent way to increase ones Omega-3 fatty acid intake. Besides, fish is also an excellent source of protein. Some good choices include Mackerel, Lake Trout, Herring, Sardines, Albacore Tuna and Salmon.
If eating fish is not for you, then, fish oil capsules can come to the rescue. Vegetable-based Omega-3 capsules are a viable alternative too. Before taking any supplements, however, do ask a doctor especially if you are on prescription drugs or aspirin. There are many brands of Halal certified capsules available in the market.
Most soft gel capsules that are commercially available are made of pork gelatin or mixed gelatin.
Flaxseed oil is the richest source of the Omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linoleic acid, at roughly 57%. It can be used daily, must be refrigerated and consumed within 3 months. Health food stores normally carry it as a liquid or soft gelatin capsule.
Flaxseed oil is a rich source of essential fatty acids; it has fiber and lignans. Flaxseed is also available whole, or milled for use in breads or to be sprinkled on salads and cereals.
For starters, flaxseed oil is less expensive than fish oils. Flaxseed contains alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), which is a parent compound from which other Omega-3 fatty acids are derived. This is then converted in the body into other forms such as EPA and DHA. The problem is that this type of conversion is not always efficient. Fish oil, however, delivers the EPA and DHA directly to the body with no conversion necessary. Walnuts are also another excellent source of Omega-3.
Fish, despite all their benefits, are not recommended for women who are pregnant or nursing because of the high levels of mercury contamination in some. Mercury is toxic to the developing human fetal brain and could cause learning deficiencies and delay mental development in the child. The FDA, however, has refused to adopt a National Academy of Sciences recommendation that suggests tightening of safety standards for mercury levels in fish.
|Type of Fish||Fatty Acid Value|
|Trout (Lake)||1.6 mg|
|Trout (Rainbow)||0.5 mg|