Finding Your Omega-3s

By Heather Schiffke

For the past few years you have heard how wonderful salmon is for your health, so the recent research finding disturbing levels of environmental toxins present in farmed salmon may have left you wondering what on earth there is left to eat! The good news is that there are plenty of nutrient rich choices other than farmed salmon. Hopefully this new research will help to boost environmental awareness and the understanding that in order to keep ourselves healthy, we must do the same for our planet.

The reason that salmon was being promoted as a health food in the first place is that it is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are also called essential fatty acids (EFAs) or good fats. More specifically, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are the long chain omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. Studies have found that these compounds appear to protect against the modern world’s most deadly diseases - heart disease, stroke and cancer. Omega-3 fats assist in reducing inflammation and can be beneficial for inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. Omega-3 fats may also play a role in reducing depression and other mental health disorders.

To help reduce your exposure to the toxins present in some fish, it is recommended that you consume a wide variety of seafood. Although salmon tops the list as far as quantity of omega-3s, there are many other fish that contain these essential fatty acids. Aim for between H to 1 gram of omega -3 fats per day, or two to three servings of fish and seafood a week. Some individuals may benefit from taking a fish oil supplement. If you do take a supplement, make sure that you choose a brand that is free of contaminants. The manufacturer should be able to provide you with information about the processing of their product.

Remember to avoid large predator fish such as swordfish, shark and marlin. Not only do these large fish concentrate more toxins than other species, their numbers are dwindling due to over fishing. Many natural foods stores are only carrying seafood that is harvested in a sustainable manner. Support these practices and don’t be shy to ask your fishmonger or waiter about the origin of your seafood.

The following chart will give you a point of reference for the amount of omega-3s present in seafood and help you to identify the best choices to increase your overall intake of these beneficial fats.

Fish (6 oz. cooked, unless noted)

Omega-3 Fats (in grams)

Salmon, farmed Atlantic

3.7

Sardines, in sardine oil

2.8

Rainbow Trout, farmed

2.0

Salmon, wild coho

1.8*

Rainbow Trout, wild

1.7

Swordfish

1.4

Oysters (3 oz.)

1.1

Mackerel, canned (3 oz.)

1.0

Pollock

0.9

Flounder

0.9

Sole

0.9

Halibut

0.8

Sardines, in vegetable oil (3 oz.)

0.8

Tuna (canned white)

0.7

Scallops

0.6

Cod, Pacific

0.5

Tuna, fresh

0.5

Haddock

0.4

Shrimp (3 oz.)

0.3

*Farmed salmon contains more omega 3’s than wild because the fish consume feed that is concentrated with other fish oils. Plant foods also contain an omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid. The body can most likely concert these fats into EPA and DHA, although the efficiency of the conversion remains unknown. The richest plant sources of alpha-linolenic acid are flax seeds, walnuts, as well as canola and soybean oils. Smaller amounts of alpha-linolenic acid are present in pumpkin seeds and green vegetables such as kale, chard, collard greens and broccoli.

This table illustrates the amount of alpha-linolenic acid found in various plant foods.

 

Food
(1 tablespoon, unless noted)

Alpha-Linolenic Acid
(in grams)

Flaxseed Oil

8.5

Walnuts, English (1 oz.)

2.6

Flaxseeds

2.2

Walnut Oil

1.4

Canola Oil

1.2

Soybean Oil

0.9

Walnuts, Black (1 oz.)

0.6

Olive Oil

0.1

Broccoli, raw (1 cup)

0.1

 

Chinese Medicine has long recognized the importance of diet for maintaining good health as well as in the treatment of disease. Whatever your personal goals are, the practitioners at Tao of Wellness will be happy to work with you in designing an individual dietary plan that fits your specific needs. Increasing your dietary intake of omega-3 fats is another way that you can be proactive in your health and wellness care.

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