|Pollachius virens (Photo: Tino Strauss) is king, when it comes to the n:3/n:6 ratio, but with <1% of fat you will still be hard pressed to get tons of omega-3s from eating pollock... but is more really better, let alone necessary?|
Fish? Of course, I have fish & chips or fish sticks every other day!
I guess I don't have to tell you that both the fish part of "fish and chips", as well as the "healthy" fish sticks that are pretty popular at least among German kids, should actually be sold at the bakery, right? I mean the ratio of the bread crumb coating to the pressed fish fillets inside, is hilarious and in view of the fact that these products are 'pre-fried' with cheap vegetable oil before they end up in the freezer cabinets of supermarkets all around the world, you cannot avoid the increased (partially oxidized) omega-6 intake, even if don't (as most people do) fry them at home.
So, if the fast-food version of "fish" is not an option to gear your polyunsaturated fatty acid ratio more towards the n-3 side of things, which fish shall you go for? Well, according to the data the scientists from the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, collected Pollachius virens is the n3:n6 king among the seven most frequently consumed fish species, which are herring, tuna, pollock, alaska pollock, salmon, rainbow trout and iridescent shark (at least according to Strobel, 2013).
|Figure 2: Comparison of fatty acid content in g/100g of wild and farmed salmon (left) and respective omega-3 to omega-6 ratios (right; based on Strobel. 2013)|
So what do we make of all that information?
The very latest on the effects of fish consumption on body weight comes from a study in the latest issue of the British Journal of Nutrition and shows that there is no effect of higher intakes of total, lean or fatty fish on 5-year risk of becoming obese in the 344,757 male and female participants of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (Jakobsen. 2013). Now, this does not exclude the existence of non-body weight related benefits, but it certainly puts the myth of the "anti-obesity" effect of fatty fish into perspective. After all, every 10g of additional high fat fish in the diets of the female study participants was associated with a 5x more pronounced increase in body weight than an equal amount of low fat fish. The general trend towards increasing BMIs was yet countered by none of the two.
Specifically when it comes to supplementation, previous trials such as Filaire et al. did in fact find increases in oxidative stress in perfectly healthy athletes (judo) in response to 6 weeks on 600mg EPA + 400mg DHA per day (Filaire. 2010). If you also take into consideration that these negative effects on lipid oxidation were not ameliorated by higher alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) levels, the message this and other studies are sending is clear: The putative increase in omega-3 requirements is a result of an abnormally high intake of omega-6 fatty acids.
The easiest way to escape any negative effects while still reaping the benefits therefore is to reduce (not totally avoid!) the intake of omega-6 fats (specifically from processed foods) - full stop! If you do that by incorporating a large variety of whole foods into your diet and include grass-fed beef, dairy from pastured cows and, obviously, fish on a regular basis, you won't have to increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids by picking the orange colored, disgustingly tasting, fat dripping farmed salmon from the super market over its delicious red wild cousin, just because it has 4.5x more omega-3 fatty acids.
Bottom line: It's food quality and fatty acid ratios that make the difference; not the absolute numbers of allegedly good and bad fats, carbs and whatever else has recently fallen victim to the over-generalization that appears to be necessary to render dietary advice suitable for the masses. If there is any one thing that's to blame for the health crisis these days, it's this kind of black-and-white thinking that's behind the overgeneralized and faulty "expert advice" which is by no means propagated exclusively via supposedly unreliable sources on the Internet.
- Filaire E, Massart A, Portier H, Rouveix M, Rosado F, Bage AS, Gobert M, Durand D. Effect of 6 Weeks of n-3 fatty-acid supplementation on oxidative stress in Judo athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2010 Dec;20(6):496-506.
- Jakobsen MU, Dethlefsen C, Due KM, May AM, Romaguera D, Vergnaud AC, Norat T, Sørensen TI, Halkjær J, Tjønneland A, Boutron-Ruault MC, Clavel-Chapelon F, Fagherazzi G, Teucher B, Kühn T, Bergmann MM, Boeing H, Naska A, Orfanos P, Trichopoulou A, Palli D, Santucci De Magistris M, Sieri S, Bueno-de-Mesquita HB, van der A DL, Engeset D, Hjartåker A, Rodríguez L, Agudo A, Molina-Montes E, Huerta JM, Barricarte A, Amiano P, Manjer J, Wirfält E, Hallmans G, Johansson I, Khaw KT, Wareham NJ, Key TJ, Chajès V, Slimani N, Riboli E, Peeters PH, Overvad K. Fish consumption and subsequent change in body weight in European women and men. Br J Nutr. 2013 Jan;109(2):353-62.
- Strobel C, Jahreis G, Kuhnt K. Survey of n-3 and n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids in fish and fish products. Lipids Health Dis. 2012 Oct 30;11:144.