Healthy Fats from Healthy Oceans
Salmon has widely been acclaimed as a healthy food choice because of the high level of omega-3 fats in wild salmon. Omega-3s are considered “essential fats” and have been linked to the prevention and treatment of a wide array of illnesses and chronic conditions from cancer to Attention Deficit Disorder.
The salmon farming industry has done much to capitalize on the good reputation of wild salmon, but farmed salmon doesn’t match the benefits of wild fish and can undermine the long-term availability of marine source omega-3s.
Wild salmon have a consistently high ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats. In farmed salmon, this ratio varies widely depending on the amount of fish product in their feed. As the amount of fish declines, so does the level of omega 3s. Soy, canola, and maize are used as replacements—these contain omega-6 fats and are often genetically modified crops.
Research suggests that a healthy balance between these essential but competing fats is obtained by consuming two to four times more omega-3s than omega-6s—a ratio not always found in farmed salmon.
There are three types of omega-3s:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the omega-3 found in plant foods such as flax, walnuts, canola oil and leafy greens;
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA); and
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- DHA and EPA omega-3s are found in cold-water fish, such as sardines, anchovies, mackerel and salmon, along with shellfish, grass-fed beef, chicken, and eggs.
DHA and EPA, most abundant in certain types of seafood, are the fatty acids with most of the demonstrated health benefits attributed to omega-3s. While ALA has some of its own less-studied benefits, studies also show that it can be converted to DHA in the body.
Experts believe that omega-3s work by encouraging the body to produce chemicals that help control inflammation in a variety of tissues. They also have the ability to balance the functions of omega-6s. Found in many everyday foods, omega-6 fats encourage inflammation in ways that keep our skin healthy, jump start our immune systems when an infection is detected, and help our blood to clot.
Sustainable Marine Omega-3 Sources
To remedy a shortage of omega-3s in human diets, many nutritionists advocate seafood consumption twice a week. This advice is reasonable, considering that in addition to its beneficial fatty acid content, most seafood is fairly low in calories and cholesterol, and an excellent source of protein and minerals. However, we need to take care to ensure that our consumption of fish maximizes our health without putting undue strain on marine ecosystems.
A growing body of research suggests eating more fish is unlikely to impart any of the advertised benefits of omega-3s without a significant reduction in omega-6s. Reading more labels, cutting down on ready-made meals and fast food, and switching from corn to canola oil when frying food at home then, is the first step to increasing your intake of omega-3s.
You can boost your intake of omega-3s without relying on oceans sources by ensuring you eat plenty of terrestrially-sourced omega-3s such as flax, nuts, leafy greens, and grass-fed meats. With these in your diet, all you will need is a modest amount of seafood to reap the health benefits offered by DHA and EPA. The seafood options below are the top choices for high doses of omega-3s and low impact on our finite ocean resources.
Best choices for healthy omega-3s and healthy oceans recommended by the SeaChoice sustainable seafood program are:
- Herring, Atlantic (US), Pacific (Canada)
- Mussels, farmed
- Oysters, farmed
- Sardines, Brisling, Spats (US)
- Sablefish, wild caught (AK, BC)
Download the SeaChoice Canada’s Seafood Guide wallet card that will help you choose the most sustainable seafood options.
In the United States, check out the Seafood Watch card by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.