Most everyone over the age of twenty is probably familiar with the lyrics Mary Poppins sang as she dutifully tended to the Banks children: “Just a spoonful of fish oil makes the sickness go down!” Well, if Mary Poppins had lived in Iceland, this might have been her twist to the tune. Countries such as Iceland that consume diets rich in fish and fish oil are found to be healthier than the rest of the world. In fact, in 2017, Bloomberg ranked Iceland as the second healthiest nation. So what is the correlation between consuming a steady diet of fish products and overall health? The answer is simple — fish contains a “good” fat known as Omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3 is an “essential” fatty acid, which means the human body does not produce it, so it must be ingested. The two most significant kinds of Omega-3s are abbreviated as EPA and DHA which, technically speaking, are long chains of carbon atoms with a particular type of bond structure. For our non-molecular biologist purposes, it’s enough to understand that EPA and DHA are fatty acids that, when consumed in adequate quantities, can have a significant impact on our health and athletic abilities.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the most beneficial effect of Omega-3 fats is in maintaining heart health and preventing heart disease. However, EPA and DHA Omega-3’s are also linked to decreasing stiffness and joint pain, reducing depression, lowering the inflammation that causes asthma and protecting against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Omega-3s are even shown to increase athletic function! Not only do they reduce joint inflammation after hard workouts, EPA and DHA have also been found to improve the heart’s ability to function efficiently. Sounds pretty good, right? It gets better. Studies show that Omega-3s can also assist in fat loss and muscle growth at the same time!
Now that you are hopefully invested in the idea of increasing your daily dosage of Omega-3s, you’re probably wondering how many grams per day you should consume and how to obtain them. Licensed Sports Dietitian Tavis Piattoly recommends that, based on scientific studies, three to four grams per day (1.5 – 2 grams of EPA and 1.5 to 2 grams of DHA) is an ideal dosage for the average person.
Naturally, the easiest way to up your Omega-3 dosage is to eat more fish, preferably those higher in EPA and DHA. Three ounces of wild Atlantic Salmon contains 1.22 grams of DHA and .35 grams of EPA per 3-ounce serving whereas Atlantic Mackerel has .59 grams of DHA and .28 grams of EPA per 3-ounce serving. Herring, another saltwater fish that is often salted, smoked or pickled, provides .94 grams of DHA and .28 grams of EPA per 3-ounce serving. Other forms of seafood, such as oysters and shrimp, also contain Omega-3s, but not as many. For example, 3 ounces of wild oysters contain .23 grams of DHA and.30 grams of EPA. Because most people probably don’t eat enough seafood on a daily basis to obtain recommended levels of Omega-3s, an easy way to up your ingested DHA and EPA is to take fish oil instead. Consuming fish oil in liquid or capsule form is a great way to increase Omega-3 consumption without having to drastically alter your diet. Beware, though, that not all fish oils are created equal, and some have dangerously high levels of mercury. Therefore, it’s essential to do a little research before you start popping supplements. Livestrong published an article last year evaluating top brands of mercury-free fish oil, which included Naturals, Olympian Labs, 21st Century HealthCare and Carlson Nutritional Supplements. Any of these would be a good starting point, but be prepared to shop around before finding one that works well with you. Also, certain people take issue with the taste of fish oil, so mixing liquid fish oil with sparkling water is a great way to mask the taste.
Now that you understand the basics of Omega-3s, order some fish oil, grab some sushi and get your Omega-3 party started! Your body, now and decades from now, will thank you.