The important thing to know about Omegas is that, above all, it’s all about “The Ratio.” By that I mean the ratio of Omega-6s to Omega-3s. Ancestral norms of hunter-gatherer populations fall somewhere in the range of 1:2 to 2:1. Why is this so important? Because Omega-6s are generally pro-inflammatory, whereas Omega-3s are generally anti-inflammatory. The challenge arises in that our modern diets provide an over-abundance of pro-inflammatory Omega-6.
Before taking an Omega-3 supplement to balance out this ratio, consumers must be prudent to first reduce excess Omega-6 intake. This is because even a carefully planned Paleo-type diet will likely still contain more Omega-6 than is ideal. Most restaurants still use processed oils that are sky-high in Omega-6, because these oils are cheap. And most all processed foods are made with the same oils. Even Paleo-friendly nuts and nut butters can be very high in Omega-6.
Here are some samples of substitutions to consider:
|Vegetable Oil||Coconut Oil|
|Margarine||Butter—pref. from Pastured Cows|
|Grain-Fed Beef||Grass-Fed Beef or Bison|
|Supermarket Eggs||Farm-Fresh Eggs|
|Store-Bought Salad Dressing||Olive Oil & Vinegar|
|Farm Raised Fish||Wild Fish or Shrimp|
Now that we’ve reduced Omega-6 intake to a more desirable level, we can think about adding in some additional Omega-3s to smooth things out. Although Omega-6 is crucial to health, in the right amounts, we cannot stress enough the importance of Omega-3s to a thriving human body & mind. They affect virtually every system and function of our being. Ever heard the saying, “If you can’t fix it with squats or fish oil, you’re probably going to die?”
As is the general rule in nutrition, it’s best if you can get as much of your desired Omega-3s from whole food sources, when possible. BUT not all Omega-3s are the same! There are three main types of Omega-3 that we find in our food:
- ALA or Alpha-linoleic-acid is a shorter chain fatty acid that is found abundantly in certain plant sources and can be converted, although very inefficiently, to one of the longer chain (and more important) EPA or DHA. ALA can be found in flax seed and flaxseed oil, walnuts and walnut oil, corn oil, chia, and many vegetable oils.
- EPA or Eicosapentaenoic Acid is a longer chain fatty acid that is, along with DHA, only found in animal sources. EPA is strongly anti-inflammatory, and this is why many supplement companies are targeting EPA as being particularly beneficial for athletes. We find EPA in wild fish, shellfish and caviar as well as grass-fed beef and other wild meats.
- DHA or Docosahexaenoic Acid is the longest of the Omega-3 fatty acids. DHA is of particular importance to developing babies and children as it is crucial to eye, nerve & brain health. Also only found in animal sources, DHA is generally found alongside EPA in wild and grass-fed animal sources.
Many health professionals and organizations recommend that we eat a few servings of low-mercury fish per week. Many of us don’t even come close to meeting this amount; and even if we did, it may still not be enough EPA/DHA to supply our needs. So, how do we know which supplement to choose?
Quality! You are what you eat, right? Well, the same goes for fish. If the fish we eat are fed a poor quality, inflammatory diet, they’ll be passing that poor nutrition on to us. This is why it’s important, just as paleo dieters choose wild over farm-raised fish, to select a fish oil supplement that comes from only wild-caught fish. Marketing professionals know what they’re doing; if their product contains ingredients to be proud of, they’ll tell you. If it doesn’t specifically say “wild” on the ingredient list, that should be a red flag. Another thing to keep in mind is that, as polyunsaturated fats, Omegas are highly susceptible to oxidation. If they are not kept in a light and temperature controlled storage area, they may very well be rancid. Bad fish oil may actually do more harm than good, so be conscious from whom you purchase. Big box stores may not be going this extra mile to ensure product integrity. And, speaking of product integrity… the supplement industry is not regulated like pharmaceuticals are, and very often the actual products do not live up to their claims. You can protect yourself against false claims by requesting a COA or Certificate of Analysis. This ensures that the product has been tested by an independent third party to meet international standards. Nordic Naturals products explicitly say on the label “COA available upon request.”
Quantity? How much do I need to take? Well, it depends. As always, you’ll want to check with your doctor. Turn the bottle over and read the facts. The actual amount of EPA and DHA per serving can vary greatly from one product to the next, even those that contain the same amount of fish oil. Those products geared toward athletes may have a greater EPA/DHA ratio, whereas pregnant or lactating women may want to look for the product with the most DHA. Whatever your priority, be sure to read the back of the label where it will list the amount of actual Omega 3 per serving. If the bottle says 1200mg of fish oil, only a portion of that 1200mg will be Omega 3s. This makes a difference in how many fluid ounces or softgels you have to take in a day to reach your desired dose. Greater potency generally means more bang for your buck. Individuals who are otherwise in excellent health and have carefully reduced excess Omega 6 intake and are eating wild fish regularly may only need to supplement with one serving or around 1000 mg total EPA/DHA. Those of us who are human and eat out occasionally and/or have some minor issues, aches and pains or inflammation (i.e. most gym-goers) may want to take “a little more.” And folks with major inflammatory or autoimmune disease may want to take “a lot more.” I have seen recommendations as high as 1gram (1000mg) per 10lb bodyweight. This would put a 150 lb rheumatoid arthritis sufferer at 15 softgels of 1000mg each… Gulp! For large doses, there are liquid forms of fish oil which may make it easier to take that much, but it’s all a matter of personal preference. For instance, Rae Lane (owner of Club 14 Fitness) is in excellent overall health, has reduced excess Omega 6 and eats wild fish and meat on a regular basis; however, due to her stringent exercise regimen, she has developed some inflammatory muscle strains. To combat these minor inflammatory issues, she is currently taking 6 grams (a little more than a teaspoon) of high quality liquid omega 3 fish oil.
Recently, we have found SFH (Strength, Fitness, and Health Company) liquid O3, which contains more than 3700 mg of total Omega 3 per one teaspoon serving. A person would likely have to take at least half a dozen softgels in order to achieve this same dose.
The next time you’re in the gym, be sure to ask about the different fish oil supplements that are available to you. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the new SFH liquid O3, there are two flavors for you to sample: Tangerine & Lemon. Just ask one of your coaches to find out which is your favorite.