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Omega 3s Supplements and Foods

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Supplements Descriptions

By Gary F. Zeolla

In both my God-given Foods Eating Plan book and in the Second Edition of my Creationist Diet book, I discuss the many benefits of eating fish due to its Omega 3 content.

Consumption of this very healthy form of fat has been associated with reduced risks of heart disease, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. Omega 3s have also been shown to reduce the pain and inflammation of arthritis, to combat depression, to improve vision, to aid in weight loss, and even to improve the look and feel of hair, skin, and nails (Eating Plan, p.119).

Fish Oil Capsules

However, many people do not like the taste of fish, so they turn to fish oil capsules to attain these healthy omega 3s. This is an alternative, but it is not the same as eating fish. Along with omega 3s, fish also contains many nutrients, as discussed in my books. These include protein, vitamin D, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, iodine, and selenium. Most notable among these is vitamin D and iodine, as they are rarely found in foods otherwise, unless added. In fact, the presence of these two nutrients could be the reason for some of the benefits of fish consumption. Iodine is well-known as being important for thyroid function, while vitamin D plays a role in many bodily functions, most notably, in the building of strong bones. I mention in my books that sunshine is the best way to attain vitamin D, but fish would be the best dietary source.

But still, if you are adamant about not liking fish, then supplements would be recommended to attain the healthy Omega 3s. In this case, there are many brands of fish oil available. But you really need to be careful about quality. Be sure the bottle says the fish oil is free of heavy metal contamination. Also, some fish oil supplements still have a fish aftertaste. But one brand I found to be of high quality with little fish aftertaste is Twinlab, specifically their Omega-3 Fish Oil capsules. It is available from iHerb and Amazon. For iHerb, use coupon code HOP815 to get $5.00 off your first order.

Cod Liver Oil

However, a problem with many fish oil capsules is they are rather pricey. A much less expensive and more natural alternative is cod liver oil. Cod liver oil was a very popular supplement during the first half of the twentieth century. My mom mentioned to me that she can remember her mother giving her cod liver oil as a kid. But by the second half of the twentieth century, cold liver oil fall out of disfavor. This most likely was because of the taste. My mom also mentioned that she always hated having to take the cold liver oil for this reason, and she will still scrimp her face when I mention it. However, with today's processing methods, cod liver oil does not taste near as bad as it used to.

What separates cod liver oil from other fish oil supplements is that along with being an excellent source of Omega 3s, it is also an incredible source for vitamins A and D.

In regards to the later, consider the following levels of vitamin D in different foods:

Cod Liver Oil, 1 Tbs: 1,360 IU
Salmon, cooked, 3 1/2 oz: 360 IU
Mackerel, cooked, 3 1/2 oz: 345 IU
Sardines, canned in oil, drained, 3 1/2 oz: 270 IU
Milk, nonfat, reduced fat, and whole, vitamin D fortified, 1 c: 98 IU
Margarine, fortified, 1 Tbs: 60 IU
Pudding, 1/2 c prepared from mix and made with vitamin D fortified milk: 50 IU
Dry cereal, Vitamin D fortified w/10% of the recommended daily value, 3/4 c: 40-50 IU (other cereals may be fortified with more or less vitamin D)
Liver, beef, cooked, 3 1/2 oz: 30 IU
Egg, 1 whole (vitamin D is present in the yolk): 25 IU
(source: HealthLink: Vitamin D.)

As mentioned previously, it can be seen that fish is by far the best natural source of vitamin D. The Daily Value (DV, used on food labels) and the Recommend Daily Intake (RDA) for most ages for vitamin D is 400 IUs, so just one small serving of salmon or mackerel supplies almost a full day's supply. But look at cod liver oil, one tablespoon provides over three times the RDA. Or to look at it another way, one teaspoon would provide more than a full day's supply.

Given that vitamin D is often in low supply in the American population, this is a good thing. However, where a potential problem comes in is that vitamin D is one of the four fat-soluble vitamins. This means it is stored in the body. And an excess of vitamin D can be toxic. The Upper Limit (UL) is currently set at 2,000 IUs. However, there are many who believe the RDA and UL are way too low. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is the publishers of Nutrition Action Healthletter. This is the "food cops" group. They are the ones who come out with warnings about the high fat content of restaurant foods that is often reported in the news.

What is important here is CSPI is very conservative when it comes to recommending vitamin/ mineral supplements. At best, they will recommend taking a multiple containing 100% of the RDA for a variety of vitamins and minerals. They often warn against the dangers of mega-dose supplements. But when it comes to vitamin D, they are now recommending amounts higher than the RDA. In a recent issue of their newsletter, they quote nutrition researcher Reinhold Vieth as saying, "I flat-out recommend that people take 1,000 IU a day all of the time. There's no downside." They further quote him as saying, "The UL should be 10,000 IU, rather than the current 2000 IU" (Nutrition Action, November 2007, pp.5,6).

They then recommend that people get 400 IUs from a multi and another 400 IUs from a separate vitamin D supplement. But a teaspoon of cod liver oil would provide that extra amount as well. What all of this means is, the vitamin D content of cod liver oil is a definite plus, with little risk of problems as long as only a teaspoon or so a day is consumed. However, if you spend a lot of time outside in the sunshine, then you could still end up with too much vitamin D, so it might be best to only use it during times of the year when you are not outside.

But what could be even more problematic is the vitamin A content of cod liver oil. Vitamin A is another fat-soluble vitamin (the other two are vitamins E and K). The DV for vitamin A is currently 5,000 IUs, which is about what a teaspoon of cod liver oil contains. However, that amount is now too high as the RDA for most ages is now only 3,000 IUs. The reason for dropping it is too much preformed vitamin A (retinol) "may increase the risk of hip fractures, liver abnormalities, and birth defects" (Nutrition Action, June 2008, p.6).

If you are already getting 5,000 IUs of vitamin A from a multi and add in another 5,000 IUs from cod liver oil, that could be problematic. Now some supplements use beta carotene (which the body converts to vitamin A). Beta carotene is not problematic even in high doses, so check your multi. But even if the vitamin A is from beta carotene, the 5,000 IUs of vitamin A from just a teaspoon of cod liver oil, along with vitamin A from foods, might be problematic.

This possibility, and its taste, are downsides to cold liver oil. But otherwise, it is an inexpensive and great source of omega 3s and vitamin D and is more of a supplemental food than a true supplement. Therefore, I am giving it four stars.

The brand of cod liver oil I used to use is again Twinlab. Their Norwegian Cod Liver Oil is a high quality product. The label notes in a bright yellow banner that it is "PCB/ Heavy Metal Free." It is also very inexpensive. It is available plain and in mint or lemon flavored versions. I have found the plain version to be rather tasteless, so I use it. But many would prefer the flavored versions. Either way, it is highly recommended. It is available from Amazon and iHerb.

However, I no longer use either fish oil pills or cod liver oil. The reason is, I eat fish on a regular basis. That is a much more natural way to get omega 3s, along with vitamin D, and without the risk of excessive vitamin A. My morning snack is most often canned fish of some sort, such as mackeral, tuna, sardines, or salmon. The preceding links are to iHerb, but cases of these are available from Amazon.

Flax Seeds and Flax Seed Oil

In my books, I mention that vegetarians turn to plant sources for their Omega 3 intake. But I also mention that the Omega 3 content of pant foods is not the same as that found in fish. Omega 3s in fish is found in two forms: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). But what is found in plant foods like walnuts is Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA). ALA is converted into EPA and DHA in the body, but it is not a very efficient conversion. You would have to consume a lot of ALA containing foods like walnuts to attain the equivalent of a serving of fish's worth of Omega 3s. I discuss this at length in my books, using walnuts as an example. I use walnuts since they are the best normally eaten food source of ALA.

However, walnuts are not the best source of ALA--that would be flax seeds and flax seed oil. But these foods are not commonly eaten, but if you are going to utilize plant foods for your Omega 3 intake then it would be prudent to consume these foods. And even if you consume fish or fish oil supplements, there could still be some benefit from consuming flax seed products. Along with their high ALA content, flax seeds are also high in other essentials fatty acids, namely Omega 6s and 9s. And the seeds are high in beneficial fiber and protein.

As with fish oil, quality and taste are important considerations when purchasing flax seed oil. Since flax seed oil is heat-liable, be sure the label says it is "cold-pressed." It is also good for it to be unrefined for maximum nutrient content, and organic to avoid pesticide residues. Again, as with other oils, I have found Jarrow Formulas, Omega Nutrition, Flax Oil, Hi-Lignan to fit these parameters. It is available from iHerb and Amazon. Again, for iHerb, use coupon code HOP815 to get $5.00 off your first order.

Flax oil should be kept in the refrigerator and used up within a couple of months of being opened as it can turn rancid. Be sure to check the expiration date before purchasing to be sure you will finish it before that date. Also, flax seed oil is very unstable and should not be heated, so do not use it for sautéing or other cooking purposes. The best way to use it is as a dressing on salad or sprinkled on vegetables.

As with fish oil supplements, a downside to flax seed oil is it is rather pricey. A much cheaper alternative is to use the flax seeds themselves. But it is hard for the body to digest whole flax seeds. They are so small and hard, they tend to pass through the system undigested. The way around this is to grind the flax seeds. This can easily be done at home with a coffee bean grinder, blender, or Vitamix. You can also purchase flax seeds pre-ground, known as flax seed meal, such as Now Foods: Certified Organic, Flax Seed Meal, available from iHerb and Amazon. Flax seed meal can be mixed into hot cereals like oatmeal, sprinkled on cold cereals, or baked into breads and muffins. It can be frozen for longer storage.

A benefit I have derived from the Jarrow's Flax Oil is it keeps my fingertips from cracking in the winter. This used to be a significant problem, but not longer as long as I use the flax oil regularly. I use a teaspoon on my dinner salad on most days. I also mix flax seed meal into my morning oatmeal.

Given that flax oil and flax seed meal are not really supplements but real foods, with only minor processing, and the products recommended here are organic, and the benefit I have derived from them, I have given these items five stars.

Fish and Joint Pain

My powerlifting book was published in May of 2009. At that time, I was eating fish regularly, while taking cod liver oil on days I didn’t eat fish. I was also consuming flax seed meal and flax seed oil on a regular basis. I ended the section on Omega 3 supplements with the following, “Have I noticed any benefit from all of this Omega 3s consumption? All I can say is, after six years of powerlifting, I have only had minor joint problems.” The only joint pain I experienced throughout the time I was competing in the ‘00s was on the occasions I tried squatting heavy without any knee support. But as long as I wore at least knee sleeves when doing less than five reps I had no pain. And I never had pain when doing higher reps.

But when my health took a downturn in 2010, I stopped consuming the fish, cod liver oil, and flax seed meal as I simply wasn’t eating that much. I was still consuming the flax seed oil, but I began having knee pain even when squatting for higher reps at a low intensity. But then a few months ago, I re-added the fish on a regular basis. This is the consumption mentioned above. It took a while, but the knee pain has cleared up, even with me now squatting harder and with as low as six reps. I won’t be fool enough to try squatting heavier than that again without knee support, and I will be sure to continue my regular fish consumption, so God-willing, hopefully the knee pain won’t return. (June 2017 Update: it hasn't).

For these reasons I give fish five stars as the best way to attain omega 3s. Again, various canned fish products can be attained from iHerb and Amazon. For iHerb, use coupon code HOP815 to get $5.00 off your first order.

Conclusion

Eat fish. That is the best way to attain healthy Omega 3 fatty acids. Just be sure to stick with the "clean" fish I list in my God-given Foods Eating Plan and Creationist Diet: Second Edition books so as to minimize heavy metal contamination. But if you do not eat much fish, then the above fish based supplements might be helpful. And even with fish consumption, flax seed oil and flax seed meal can be beneficial.

Omega 3s Supplements. Copyright © 2009, 2014, 2017 by Gary F. Zeolla.

The above article was first published in the free FitTips for One and All newsletter.
It was posted on this site January 1, 2009.
It was last updated June 19, 2017.

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