Are All Omega 3's the Same?

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Practically everyone I know takes at least one Omega 3 supplement daily for heart health. A friend told me just the other day that she takes 2,000 milligrams daily. So that got me thinking…what is the daily recommendation for Omega 3’s? Is it one size fits all? What should I be aiming for? What is the best way to achieve that goal?

And, oh, yes – what good does it do my body?

So, let’s start with the last question first. In a short list, let’s just say that Omega 3’s are not only good as a preventive measure against heart disease, but also helps as an anti-inflammatory in keeping our joints lubricated and that stiffness at bay, it assists in keeping our skin clearer, and in boosting our brain power.

Look at the label on the front of the bottle, and it will say how many milligrams are in each tablet. My friend’s has 1,000 mg. However, it is the back of the label that has the important information, because it lists the two kinds of Omega 3 fatty acids that are most important. In a separate line item it says EPA + DPA 300 mg – the important number to know. Ecosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) is good for the prevention of cardiovascular disease and Docosahexanoic Acid (DHA) is good for brain and neurological development.

According to Dr. Miles Hassell, author of, Good Food, Great Medicine, there are 3 levels of daily Omega 3 intake to consider:

  1. People without known heart disease, about 500 mg daily
  2. People who have a diagnosis of heart disease, about 1,000 mg daily
  3. People with high triglylcerides, about 3,000-4,000 mg daily

So, there isn’t a one size fits all solution. That means that you may want to consider having some of your daily requirement from the caps and the rest from your diet. If you fall into categories 2 or 3 from above, you may want to get a more potent prescription. If you get “too much”, the only side affect Dr. Hassell notes is from one clinical trial conducted by Mayo Clinic where fish oil increases bleeding times, but they remain in the normal range. Significant bleeding has not been seen.

The best way to get any nutrient is through food

Supplements are just that – supplementing your diet. And, we know that while the fish oil gel caps are fine, the body still recognizes and absorbs real foods best.

Planked Salmon

The best source of easily absorbed EPA and DHA is cold water oily fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, tuna, trout, halibut, cod, snapper, and shellfish. Guidelines for eating oily fish vary from 2-4 servings weekly. There is evidence that shows that just twice weekly has an impact on your health.

When wild Alaskan salmon is in season and on special, I’m the first one at the fish counter. (Try it broiled.) But, when I’m watching the budget, I turn to the canned varieties.

I’ve been shopping for canned salmon, sardines, and herring for quite a long time, and I think it qualifies me as an “expert”. I’ve tried expensive versions of almost every fish, and some have greatly disappointed me. Living in the Northwest, the best canned fish can be found at the farmers market coming direct from the fishing boat. Each can may be around $5, but the flavor is so intense, that often a single can is enough for 4 servings.

When it comes to basic canned fish, I head to Trader Joe’s and Costco. Costco offers wild canned salmon in the 4-ounce size cans and TJ’s has the 15-ounce can (good for salmon cakes for 4). If you’re not squeamish about separating the small bones and a little fish skin (think extra calcium), the larger can is the most economical way to go. One 4-ounce serving provides almost 80% of your daily need of Omega 3’s.

After testing many kinds of sardines, my favs are just 89 cents a tin for 1-2 servings. Whether it’s lunch with avocado, tomato and lettuce, or mashed with cottage cheese for an appetizer spread, or part of a pasta puttenesca, for less than 50 cents per serving, you’ll get quality omega 3’s. And, one can provides over half of your daily need.

Scoring even better in Omega 3’s than salmon and sardines, is herring. My dad used to eat herring that was pickled with onions and cucumbers and others with sour cream. For those varieties and others in mustard or tomato sauces, head to Ikea. Their jars are straight from Sweden and are delish, but read the label because added sodium and sugar can be hidden culprits here. Costco has the big jars of pickled herring as well. TJ’s offers a tin with 2 large smoked herring fillets for under $2.00. Wrap them in lettuce leaves, serve on a buffet, or place them on sandwich with mustard and tomato – yum!

Omega 3’s for my heart, my brain, for me

So, where to start? Think about it this way — most everyone starts with canned tuna fish. So, making the leap to salmon and sardines just shouldn’t be that complicated. But trust me, if you make it over your own psychological issues, by disguising the canned fish in dishes like pasta, then pretty soon you’ll be eating it alone, purely for the pleasure of enjoyment… a friend to your health and your pocketbook, too.

If you’re a vegetarian or can’t get over your fish issues, then look to the plant world for sources…

Flax seeds and walnuts are the best sources of Omega 3’s. Other good sources are soybeans, winter squash, broccoli, collard greens, spinach, Brussels sprouts, raspberries, strawberries. Here’s a web site that might give you more information, inspiration and ideas.

So, what will your solution be to get your Omega 3’s?

Susan Levy

Publisher, Well-Fed Heart

Image Credit: WordRidden on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

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