By Liz Pearson
I know fish is good for you, but I don’t like it. Can I take fish oil capsules instead?
Healthy fats found in fish, called omega-3 fats, should absolutely be a regular part of your diet. The best way to reel in these incredible omega-3 fats is to eat two 85-gram servings (about the size of a deck of cards) of salmon, herring, sardines or rainbow trout, each week. A fish oil capsule, which also contains omega-3s, is a good alternative for people who just can’t tolerate fish. Here’s what you need to know.
Protect your heart
Your heart truly loves these fats. They decrease the risk of irregular heartbeats that can trigger a heart attack. By reducing the stickiness of your blood, they cut the risk of blood clots forming, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. And they lower triglycerides, plaque build-up on artery walls and arterial inflammation, keeping heart disease at bay.
Feed your brain
Omega-3s are especially abundant in the brain and appear crucial for optimal brain function. They may significantly lower your risk of depression, including postpartum depression, and dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Preliminary research suggests these fats inhibit abnormal cell growth and reduce the risk of many types of cancer, including breast, lung and colon cancers.
Research also supports the use of fish oil capsules to treat inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease.
Can’t beat the real thing
The best reason to eat fish, rather than pop a fish oil pill, is because of all the other good stuff fish contains. Higher-fat fish like salmon, for example, is rich in protein as well as important nutrients like niacin, vitamin B12, vitamin D and selenium.
Don’t like the taste of fish?
Experiment with new recipes or order fish when you dine out (many restaurants, for example, make a wicked grilled salmon). Steer clear of battered or deep fried fish which often contain unhealthy trans fats. If you’re concerned about the safety of eating fish due to contaminants like mercury and PCBs, my advice is to limit your intake to about two servings per week. Choose wild instead of farmed salmon, if available, at least some of the time. Stay away from species that appear most hazardous to health, such as shark, swordfish and fresh tuna, especially if you are pregnant or nursing.
The facts on fish-oil pills
If you simply can’t stomach fish, I recommend taking a one-gram fish oil capsule twice a week. If you already have heart disease, though, the American Heart Association suggests that you consider taking one gram of fish oil every day. Here’s what to keep in mind when choosing a fish oil supplement:
- Consumer Reports magazine tested 16 brands of top selling fish oil supplements and found all brands to be safe. They recommend you purchase based on price.
- Take fish oil pills with meals to help avoid “fish burps.”
- Omega-3 fats from plant sources such as flaxseed and canola, while still beneficial for health, are not a substitute for the more potent omega-3 fats from fish.