Fish and Omega-3 Fish Oil It’s Tuesday so I’m having my twice-a-week fish dinner tonight. I’m having some flounder, baked in bread crumbs. Yummy with a salad. The freshest, tastiest fish I ever had I caught while fishing on canoe trips in Quetico, the Boundary Waters wilderness canoe country of Minnesota and Ontario, Canada. There was nothing like frying it on an open campfire on a secluded island campsite. Then, too, I remember the incredibly delicious Pompano I had at a beach restaurant in Acapulco, Mexico. A Mexican boy asked for the head, so I gladly gave it to him. He said his mother made soup from it. Since those golden years I have bought fresh fish at the fish market or frozen from supermakets. Whether breaded or doused with a little olive oil, I bake them in a tabletop oven for a few minutes and boy, they taste good and are good for me. I’ve also read about the benefits of fish oil, so I take a fish oil softgell each morning with my vitamins and put one in my dog Annie’s food dish because I’ve read that fish oil is good for our blood pressure, bones, and other things, so I was interested in this new article in the Fall issue of John Hopkins Medicine Health After 50 news letter: “Does Fish Oil Help Prevent Heart Attacks or Strokes?” There has been a surge in research into the cardiovascular effects of fish oil pills in recent years. Those studies have reached various conclusions, so it’s no wonder people are confused about taking fish oil. An analysis in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2012 casts doubt on whether supplements of fish oil can prevent heart attacks and strokes in people at increased risk of having them. A meta-analysis combines the results oif multiple studies and tries to give an idea of the overall evidence. In this case, researchers pooled findings from 14 good-quality clinical trials that included more than 20,000 patients with a history of heart disease or stroke. The patients weree all randomly assigned to consume either fish oil or a placebo (inactive pills) for at least one year. When the trials’ results were combined, there was no sign that fish oil users had any lower risk of heart problems, stroke, or death. In one trial of 2,500 people, just over 6 per cent of both fish oil and placebo users experienced heart trouble, had a stroke, or died over five years. The omega-3 fats in fish oil can lower very high triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood). If your doctor has prescribed omega-3 for that reason, stick with it. But we have little evidencde that omega-3 taken in supplement form prevents heart attacks or strokes in high-risk people. It is best simply to eat fish as part of a healthy diet. (end of article) There are many health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Research shows strong evidence that the omega-3s EPA and DHA can help lower triglycerides and blood pressure. And there are studies showing that omega-3 fatty acids may help with other conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, depression, and many more. Just what are omega-3 fatty acids exactly? How much do you need? And what do all those abbreviations -- EPA, DHA, and ALA -- really mean? Here's a rundown on omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Basics Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids. We need them for our bodies to work normally. Because essential fatty acids (ALA, DHA, EPA) are not made in the body or are inefficiently converted from ALA to EPA and DHA, we need to get them from our diet . Omega-3s have a number of health benefits. Omega-3s are thought to play an important role in reducing inflammation throughout the body -- in the blood vessels, the joints, and elsewhere. However, omega-3 supplements (EPA/DHA) may cause the blood to thin and cause excess bleeding, particularly in people taking anticoagulant drugs. There are several types of omega-3 fatty acids. Two crucial ones -- EPA and DHA -- are primarily found in certain fish. Plants like flax contain ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid that is partially converted into DHA and EPA in the body. Algae oil often provides only DHA. Most experts say that DHA and EPA -- from fish and fish oil -- have better established health benefits than ALA. DHA and EPA are found together only in fatty fish and algae. DHA can also be found on its own in algae, while flaxseed and plant sources of omega-3s provide ALA -- a precursor to EPA and DHA, and a source of energy. Brierley Wright, a registered nurse and nutrition edidtor of Eating Well magazine, says: You probably already know that you're supposed to be eating fish twice a week. Fish are a lean, healthy source of protein-and the oily kinds, such as salmon, tuna, sardines, etc.-deliver those heart- and brain-healthy omega-3 fats you've probably also heard you should be getting in your diet. But then there's also this concern about sustainability-and choosing seafood that's sustainable. So, if you're like me, you often stand at the fish counter a little perplexed: what's good for me and the planet? Fortunately, Seafood Watch, the program run by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, has combined data from leading health organizations and environmental groups to come up with their list "Super Green: Best of the Best" of seafood that's good for you and good for the environment. To make the list, last updated in 2010, fish and shellfish must: a) have low levels of contaminants-below 216 parts per billion [ppb] mercury and 11 ppb PCBs; b) be high in health-promoting omega-3 fats; and c) come from a sustainable fishery. Many other options are on the program's list of "Best Choices" (seafoodwatch.org). The Blue Ocean Institute (blueocean.org) also has sustainability ratings and detailed information. 6 of the Healthiest Fish and Shellfish to Eat Here are 6 fish and shellfish-that are healthy for you and the planet-that Seafood Watch says you should be eating. 1. Albacore Tuna (troll- or pole-caught, from the U.S. or British Columbia) Many tuna are high in mercury but albacore tuna-the kind of white tuna that's commonly canned-gets a Super Green rating as long as (and this is the clincher) it is "troll- or pole-caught" in the U.S. or British Columbia. The reason: smaller (usually less than 20 pounds), younger fish are typically caught this way (as opposed to the larger fish caught on longlines). These fish have much lower mercury and contaminant ratings and those caught in colder northern waters often have higher omega-3 counts. The challenge: you need to do your homework to know how your fish was caught or look for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) blue eco label. 2. Salmon (wild-caught, Alaska) To give you an idea of how well managed Alaska's salmon fishery is, consider this: biologists are posted at river mouths to count how many wild fish return to spawn. If the numbers begin to dwindle, the fishery is closed before it reaches its limits, as was done recently with some Chinook fisheries. This close monitoring, along with strict quotas and careful management of water quality, means Alaska's wild-caught salmon are both healthier (they pack 1,210 mg of omega-3s per 2-ounce serving and carry few contaminants) and more sustainable than just about any other salmon fishery. 3. Oysters (farmed) Farmed oysters are good for you (a 3-ounce serving contains over 300 mg of omega-3s and about a third of the recommended daily values of iron). Better yet, they are actually good for the environment. Oysters feed off the natural nutrients and algae in the water, which improves water quality. They can also act as natural reefs, attracting and providing food for other fish. One health caveat: Raw shellfish, especially those from warm waters, may contain bacteria that can cause illnesses. 4. Sardines, Pacific (wild-caught) The tiny, inexpensive sardine is making it onto many lists of superfoods and for good reason. It packs more omega-3s (1,950 mg!) per 3-ounce serving than salmon, tuna or just about any other food; it's also one of the very, very few foods that's naturally high in vitamin D. Many fish in the herring family are commonly called sardines. Quick to reproduce, Pacific sardines have rebounded from both overfishing and a natural collapse in the 1940s. 5. Rainbow Trout (farmed) Though lake trout are high in contaminants, nearly all the trout you will find in the market is farmed rainbow trout. In the U.S., rainbow trout are farmed primarily in freshwater ponds and "raceways" where they are more protected from contaminants and fed a fishmeal diet that has been fine-tuned to conserve resources. 6. Freshwater Coho Salmon (farmed in tank systems, from the U.S.) Freshwater coho salmon is the first-and only-farmed salmon to get a Super Green rating. All other farmed salmon still falls on MontereyBay Aquarium's Seafood Watch "avoid" list for a few reasons. Many farms use crowded pens where salmon are easily infected with parasites, may be treated with antibiotics and can spread disease to wild fish (one reason Alaska has banned salmon farms). Also, it can take as much as three pounds of wild fish to raise one pound of salmon. Coho, however, are raised in closed freshwater pens and require less feed, so the environmental impacts are reduced. They're also a healthy source of omega-3s-one 3-ounce serving delivers 1,025 milligrams. 6 Fish to Avoid A number of environmental organizations have also advocated taking many fish off the menu. The large fish listed below are just six examples EatingWell chose to highlight: popular fish that are both depleted and, in many cases, carry higher levels of mercury and PCBs. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has also posted health advisories on some of these fish at edf.org. 1. Bluefin Tuna In December 2009 the World Wildlife Fund put the bluefin tuna on its "10 for 2010" list of threatened species, alongside the giant panda, tigers and leatherback turtles. Though environmental groups are advocating for protected status, the bluefin continues to command as much as $177,000 a fish. Bluefin have high levels of mercury and their PCBs are so high that EDF recommends not eating this fish at all. 2. ChileanSea Bass (aka Patagonian Toothfish) Slow-growing and prized for its buttery meat, Chilean sea bass has been fished to near depletion in its native cold Antarctic waters. The methods used to catch them-trawlers and longlines-have also damaged the ocean floor and hooked albatross and other seabirds. At present, there is one well-managed fishery that is MSC-certified. EDF has issued a consumption advisory for Chilean sea bass due to high mercury levels: adults should eat no more than two meals per month and children aged 12 and younger should eat it no more than once a month. 3. Grouper High mercury levels in these giant fish have caused EDF to issue a consumption advisory. Groupers can live to be 40 but only reproduce over a short amount of time, making them vulnerable to overfishing. 4. Monkfish This strange fish resembles a catfish in that it has whiskers and is a bottom dweller, but its light, fresh taste made it a staple for gourmets. The fish is recovering some after being depleted, but the trawlers that drag for it also threaten the habitat where it lives. 5. Orange Roughy Like grouper, this fish lives a long life but is slow to reproduce, making it vulnerable to overfishing. As Seafood Watch puts it: "Orange roughy lives 100 years or more-so the fillet in your freezer might be from a fish older than your grandmother!" This also means it has high levels of mercury, causing EDF to issue a health advisory. 6. Salmon (farmed) Most farmed salmon (and all salmon labeled "Atlantic salmon" is farmed) are raised in tightly packed, open-net pens often rife with parasites and diseases that threaten the wild salmon trying to swim by to their ancestral spawning waters. Farmed salmon are fed fishmeal, given antibiotics to combat diseases and have levels of PCBs high enough to rate a health advisory from EDF. Recently, however, freshwater-farmed Coho salmon have earned a Best Choice status from Seafood Watch. There is hope consumer pressure will encourage more farms to adopt better practices.