Fish is one of only a few dietary sources of omega-3 fats commonly referred to as EPA and DHA (1). Omega-3 fats are very important for health, but lately, researchers have been wondering if fish is a better source than fish oil (2,3). Here are the top three reasons why I encourage eating fatty fish over taking a fish oil.
Fatty fish contain many other beneficial nutrients, in addition to omega-3 fats, that are more difficult to get in a Standard American Diet (SAD). The SAD is high in refined sugar, grain products and seed based oils like canola, corn and soya. It is also low in fresh fruits, vegetables and fish (4). Vitamin A and D, selenium and zinc are plentiful in fatty fish and absent from fish oil unless added in the manufacturing process (5).
Omega-3 fats are unstable and can oxidize (9,10). Oxidation is the chemical process that makes your car rust. It turns health giving omega-3 fats into potentially pro-inflammatory fats. It’s still unknown how this may affect our health (11). Be sure to use low temperatures to cook fish to keep the omega-3 fats from oxidizing. If you take fish oil supplements, make sure they are fresh and of good quality.
How much fish should I eat?
Given this information, remember that it’s most important to have the EPA and DHA your body needs. The recommended intake of EPA and DHA per day is still debated, but the typical range for healthy people varies from about 1 to 3 grams (12). What is right for you may be different than what is right for someone else. On average, aiming for 3 servings of fatty fish per week should meet the requirements if seed oil use is kept to a minimum.
As the nutrition debates continue, it’s important to choose properly raised and grown whole foods over supplements whenever possible. High quality supplements help make up for shortfalls in your diet but cannot simulate the benefits of getting nutrients from food. Supplements can also interact with medications and have side effects. If you are supplementing you should be doing so under the supervision of a knowledgeable practitioner.
- Jump DB, Angelo G, Drake VJ, Higdon J. Essential Fatty Acids. Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Center 2014. http://bit.ly/1pRwo9e (accessed March 17, 2016).
- Food and Drug Administration. Fish what pregnant women and parents should know: Draft advice by the FDA and EPA 2015. http://1.usa.gov/1pBdNcp (accessed March 17, 2016).
- LeWine H. Fish oil: friend or foe? Harvard Health Publications. Harvard Health 2013. http://bit.ly/1SZsh6E (Accessed on March 17, 2016)
- Axe J. 9 Charts That Show Why America is Fat, Sick & Tired. 2016. http://draxe.com/charts-american-diet/ (Accessed March 18, 2016)
- World’s Healthiest Foods. Sardines 2001-2016. The George Mateljan Foundation. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=147 (Accessed on March 17, 2016)
- Elvevoll EO, Barstad H, Breimo ES, Brox J, Eilersten KE, Lund T. Enhanced incorporation of n-3 fatty acids from fish compared with fish oils. Lipids. 2006;41(12):1109-14.
- Visioli F1, Risé P, Barassi MC, Marangoni F, Galli C. Dietary intake of fish vs. formulations leads to higher plasma concentrations of n-3 fatty acids. Lipids. 2003 Apr;38(4):415-8.
- Harris WS1, Pottala JV, Sands SA, Jones PG. Comparison of the effects of fish and fish-oil capsules on the n 3 fatty acid content of blood cells and plasma phospholipids. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Dec;86(6):1621-5.
- Taneja A1, Singh H. Challenges for the delivery of long-chain n-3 fatty acids in functional foods. Annu Rev Food Sci Technol. 2012;3:105-23. doi: 10.1146/annurev-food-022811-101130. Epub 2012 Jan 3
- Böttcher S1, Steinhäuser U2, Drusch S3. Off-flavour masking of secondary lipid oxidation products by pea dextrin. Food Chem. 2015 Feb 15;169:492-8. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2014.05.006. Epub 2014 May 13. (Accessed March 17, 2016)
- Gurevich P. Fish oil and oxidation: causes and effects. Labdoor Magazine 2014. https://labdoor.com/article/fish-oil-and-oxidation-causes-and-effects (Accessed March 17, 2016)
- The Natural Standard Research Corporation. Drugs and supplements: omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil and alpha-linolenic acid dosing. 2013. The Mayo Clinic. http://mayocl.in/1TV7DWg (Accessed May 18, 2016)