We don't often preach about health and health food in this space, figuring that food-lovers can make those choices themselves.
But after hearing Dr. Oz tell Piers Morgan the other day that french fries were the single worst food you could possibly eat (hmm, I'll see your french fries and raise you a chimichanga and a Bloomin' Onion), I thought I would point out something I I just learned. I think of myself as a two-pronged eater: I will try anything, but I also want to balance that with eating healthy food. In other words, dinner during BaconFest might be preceded by a breakfast of a green smoothie and then berries and yogurt for lunch.
For several years, I have taken fish oil supplements for my health, along with Vitamin D, magnesium, zinc and a multi-vitamin. But I just read in the following missive that fish oil isn't nearly as effective as eating actual fish when it comes to heart health. The author, Dr. Gabe Mirkin, is a physician (and endurance athlete) who pens a regular email newsletter related to healthy living. It's very good and I recommend you subscribe if you're interested in simple, straight-forward health advice. Check out his website here, and sign up for the weekly email via a section in the right column,
So, here's what the doctor says about fish v. fish oil. It was news to me, someone who tries to eat seafood as often as possible (the photo above is of the grilled octopus I enjoyed at Restaurant 1833 in Monterey).
Fish, but Not Fish Oil Pills, Reduce Heart Attack Risk
* A review of 17 prospective studies shows that EATING
FISH ONCE A WEEK, compared to eating less fish, was associated
with a 16 percent lower risk of fatal heart attacks.
* A review of 14 randomized, double-blind, placebo-
controlled trials showed that TAKING FISH OIL PILLS (EPA-DHA)
does not offer protection from fatal heart attacks (Current
Opinion in Lipidology. Dec, 2012;23(6):554-9).
These conclusions agree with previous studies showing
that eating fish is associated with protection from heart
attacks, while taking fish oil pills is not (Eur Heart J. 2008
Aug;29(16):2024-30; Eur Heart J September, 2011).
POSSIBLE EXPLANATIONS: 1) It is possible that fish, but
not fish oil pills, prevent heart attacks because the fish oils
act in combination with other nutrients found in the fish, such
as vitamin D, iodine or selenium.
2) Drugs to treat high blood pressure, cholesterol and
clotting may be so far more effective than omega-3s that any
added benefit of omega-3 pills does not show up in population
studies of people taking medications.
3) Fish oil pills increase blood levels of the "bad" LDL
cholesterol that increases risk for heart attacks (Nutrition,
Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases, September 22, 2011).
People appear to receive maximum benefit from eating fish
once or twice a week; more has not been shown to be better.
People in Nordic countries eat large amounts of fish but the
extra fish does not add further protection from heart attacks.
HOW DO FISH HELP TO PREVENT HEART ATTACKS? The main
beneficial nutrient appears to be the omega-3 fatty acids in
fatty fish. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of unsaturated fatty
acid that is thought to reduce inflammation throughout the body.
Inflammation in the body can damage blood vessels to cause heart
attacks. Omega-3 fatty acids also help to lower cholesterol when
they are substituted for saturated fatty acids such as those
found in meat.
HOW DOES INFLAMMATION CAUSE HEART ATTACKS? Heart attacks
are caused by a sudden breaking off of a plaque from the inner
lining of an artery. The broken-off plaque travels down an ever-
narrowing artery until it eventually blocks the flow of blood to
the heart muscle to cause a heart attack. Cholesterol
deposition into plaques is a late happening in progression
towards a heart attack. First your immunity punches a hole in
the inner lining of the artery. This is called inflammation.
Then you bleed and a clot forms over the erosion. Only after the
clot forms does cholesterol enter a plaque.
BEST SOURCES OF OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS: Fish contain omega-3s
because they eat plankton or other fish that have eaten plankton.
Deep-water fatty fish, such as salmon, herring, mackerel,
sardines or tuna, contain the most omega-3s. Many other types of
seafood contain smaller amounts of omega-3s.
Most freshwater fish have far less omega-3s than saltwater
fish. Farm-raised fish contain omega-3s IF they are fed fish
meal. Some farmed fish, such as tilapia and catfish, can thrive
without eating fish meal. They are fed corn that does not
contain omega-3s and therefore they do not contain omega-3s;
their fatty acid composition is similar to that of chicken.
DIFFERENT OMEGA 3S FROM PLANTS: Short chain omega-3 acids
are found in vegetable oils such as canola, soybean and flaxseed;
and in various nuts and seeds. The human body cannot convert
more than five percent of plant omega-3s to long chain fatty
acids, the type found in fish. This may explain why fish
omage-3s help to prevent heart attacks while plant omega-3s are
far less likely to do so. One study showed that plant omega-3s
may not help to prevent heart attacks (American Journal of Clinical
Nutrition, published online September 2011).
GOOD DIET: Most nutrition experts recommend eating a
healthful diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans,
nuts, seeds, and probably fish; and reducing intake of sugared
drinks, desserts and other refined carbohydrates, red meats and
fried foods. Taking supplements or chemicals extracted from
foods, such a fish oil pills, will not protect you from an
Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.