We all know omega-3 means healthy. Men need 1600mg per day, and women 1100mg. Most of us are not getting enough. Food industry to the rescue: we’re seeing lots of foods boasting added omega-3. There is usually a premium price attached to these enriched products. But is the extra money we pay worth the promised health benefits?
The answer is not so simple, as a recent article in the LA Times explains:
In order to be useful, omega-3s must be consumed in fairly large doses that can be difficult — and expensive — to get through fortified foods such as eggs and milk, says Dr. Donald Hensrud, chief of the division of preventive medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
Omega-3 eggs were developed in 1990 by a Canadian food scientist who was looking for a way to reverse declining consumption of eggs, which had gone out of favor due to their high cholesterol content. Producing an egg enriched with omega-3s turned out to be easy: All he had to do was feed hens flaxseed or another natural source of the fats and they ended up in the eggs.
Flaxseed contains ALA, so that ends up being the predominant omega-3 in fortified eggs. Read more…
ALA is a short chain omega-3 fatty acid. In our body, it gets converted to DHA and EPA, long chain omega-3 fatty acids. DHA and EPA have been clinically proven to reduce the risk of heart disease. The problem with ALA is that only 5-15% of it gets converted into DHA and EPA. (For more info on this read our recent blog post on omega-3.)
Basically, what this means is that you will need to consume a lot of enriched eggs or enriched milk to reach the same level of efficacy as as a small serving of salmon. All those calories and saturated fats just to get omega-3. That’s like driving from NY to Washington DC via Texas.
What to do at the supermarket:
If you can , get your long chain DHA and EPA omega-3 from natural sources such as fish. Flax seeds and others nuts and seeds are a good source of ALA omega-3, but you’ll need to consume a lot more for your body to convert them to DHA/EPA.
When buying products fortified with omega-3, look for the ones stating they contain DHA or EPA. If the product does not mention the type of omega-3, it’s probably ALA.
Lastly, try to reduce your omega-6 intake, thus improving the omega-3 / omega-6 ration in your body. This means less junk food.