Gone Fishing……For Omega-3’s


Dr. SeAnne Safaii-Waite, PhD, RDN, LD,

Camping season is here!  Need a new excuse to go fishing?  How about this—it’s part of your fitness plan to get more physical acitivity and Omega-3’s.   Idaho’s fresh water fish are not only a great source of protein, vitamins and minerals, but the good kind of fat as well.  Omega-3 fatty acids are derived from fish and fish oils – consisting of alpha linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), plus eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).  Most of the interest in Omega-3’s has been due to their effects on lowering triglycerides and countering inflammation.  But there are other equally important benefits of Omega-3’s for the brain, including memory, intelligence and even eye sight.

The American Heart Association recommends eating as many as two to three servings of freshwater fish per week. The following table compares the Omega-3 fatty acid content of Idaho fish in 3.5 ounce portion, which is the size of a deck of cards.  You can see that Salmon, trout and whitefish are the best sources.

ALA (mg) EPA (mg) DHA (mg) Total Omega-3’s (mg)
Bass, freshwater Trace 100    200    300
Pike, northern Trace Trace    100    100
Salmon, Chinook 100 800    600 1,500
Trout, brook 200 200    200    600
Trout, lake 400 500 1,100 2,000
Trout, rainbow 100 100    400    600
Catfish, bullhead 100 200   200    500
Catfish, channel Trace 100   200    300
Whitefish, lake 200 300 1,000 1,500

Ferren M, Addis PB (1990) Omega-3 fatty acid in Lake Superior fish. Journal of Food Science Vol. 55(1): 71-73. Hepburn, FN, Exler, J and Weihrauch, JB (1986) Provisional tales on the content of omega-3 fatty acids and other fat components of selected foods.  J Am Diet Assoc Vol. 85(6): 788-93.

Two, six-ounce servings of fish per week will yield a positive effect for the average person. Oily fish such as wild salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, herring and trout are the best catches with more DHA to offer.  When cooking, think broiling or grilling because the exra fat from deep frying is counterproductive when there’s lean protein on the menu.

Some new research from Norway (which produces over 40% of the world’s omega-3 oils) suggests that omega-3s may be better absorbed from food than supplements.  One study compared 71 volunteers’ absorption of omega-3s from salmon, smoked salmon, cod (14 ounces of fish per week) versus cod liver oil (3 teaspoons per day). Cooked salmon provided 1.2 grams of omega-3s daily, while cod liver oil provided more than twice as much: 3 grams of omega-3s per day. Even though the salmon group received less than half the amount of omega-3s as the cod liver oil group, blood levels of omega-3s increased quite a bit more in those eating salmon than those taking cod liver oil.

The American Dietetic Association recommends 500 mg/day of omega-3 fatty acids, or two servings of fatty fish per week, as part of a balanced diet. So, the bottom line is, eat fresh fish if possible, instead of supplements and give into your “I’d rather be fishing” desires.  But there is a caveat…..sitting in a boat all day, drinking beer and fishing might cancel out the benefits of omega-3’s.  Sounds like a new research study to me!

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