Understand How To Compare Omega-3 Products and the Different Types

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apples-and-orangesWhat Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fats are polyunsaturated fatty acids, the “good fat” found in fish and some plants. Since our body cannot make omega-3 fatty acids, we must get them through food or supplements.

Why We Need Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The impact of seafood’s omega-3s on heart health has been widely studied. The long running Nurses’ Health Study (which includes 80,000 women) reported back in 2001 that women eating one to three servings of fish per month cut their risk of heart disease by 20 percent, while eating at least five servings a week lowered heart disease risk by 40 percent. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends we eat fish, particularly fatty fish, at least two times per week. Two to three servings a week of fatty fish (about 8 ounces) leads to an average daily intake of 500 milligrams (mg) of EPA and DHA, which is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.

The AHA suggests that people with documented coronary heart disease (CHD) consume about 1 gram (1,000 mg) of EPA+DHA per day, preferably through fish consumption (which means eating fatty fish four- to five times a week), otherwise in supplement form. Patients who need to lower their triglycerides will need 2- to 4 grams of EPA+DHA per day.

Other research indicates omega-3 fatty acids provide benefits in the treatment of depression, inflammatory bowel disease, and autoimmune disease such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Types of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

There are two major types of omega-3 fatty acids in our diets. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are omega-3 fats found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, albacore tuna, sardines, and anchovies. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the omega-3 fat found in plant foods, mostly seed and nut oils (such as canola, flaxseed and walnuts). Our bodies can convert ALA into EPA and then DHA, so researchers used to assume that eating foods with ALA provided the same benefits seen in eating fish, with its EPA and DHA. Studies now show that humans are relatively inefficient in converting ALA into EPA and DHA. One study reported that boosting ALA to more than 10 times the current average U.S. intake caused only small increases in blood levels of EPA and DHA.

Studies show that EPA is important for optimal brain function and contributes to the reduction of inflammation. DHA has been recognized for brain, visual, and nervous system health and development. EPA and DHA work together to contribute to good heart health.

So, do you need omega-3 supplements? The answer depends upon your diet and overall health. If your heart is healthy, and you’re eating at least two servings of fatty fish every week, you’re probably fine. However, if your diet is fish deficient, or contains fish such as tilapia and catfish which aren’t fatty, then supplements are a good option. You should also consider supplements if you have CHD, elevated triglycerides, depression or inflammation issues

Grocery, health food stores and discount club shelves are full of “fish oil” and Omega-3 fatty acid products, and like everything else there are more than enough options to quickly overwhelm us. The trick to deciphering all the options so you can compare products “apples to apples” is to go to look on the back of the bottle to the supplement facts portion of the label. Once there, add up the amounts of EPA and DHA documented to be in each serving. For example, here’s the supplement facts panel for Cooper Complete Advanced Omega-3:

Compare Omega-3 Products

Advanced Omega-3 Fatty Acids Supplement Facts Panel

Supplement Facts
The daily dosage of 2 softgels provides:
% Daily
Calories (energy)25
Calories from Fat20
Total Fat2.5 g4%*
Polyunsaturated Fat1.5 g
Cholesterol<5 mg<2%*
Omega-3 Fatty Acids1,400 mg
EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)720 mg
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)480 mg
Additional Omega-3 Fatty Acids200 mg
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
†Daily Value not established.

Other Ingredients: Highly refined and concentrated omega-3 fish oil (anchovy, sardine, mackerel), capsule shell (gelatin, glycerin, purified water), natural lemon flavor, proprietary antioxidant blend (consisting of natural tocopherols (soy), rosemary extract, and ascorbyl palmitrate).

The amount of EPA (720 mg) + DHA (480 mg) = 1,200 mg total EPA/DHA combined in each 2 softgel serving. The purchase price is $14.25 for a 30 day supply of 60 softgels. So, the cost of getting 1,200 mg EPA/DHA per day is 48 cents. ($14.25 / 30 servings = $0.48.)

Below is a supplement facts panel for a competitor’s product, Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega-3:

Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega-3 Supplement Facts Panel

Supplement Facts
The daily dosage of 2 softgels provides:
% Daily
Calories (energy)18
Calories from Fat18
Total Fat2.0 g3%*
    Saturated Fat0.1 g1%
    Trans Fat0.0 g
Total Omega-3s1280 mg
     EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)650 mg
     DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)450 mg
     Other Omega-3s180 mg
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
†Daily Value not established.
Less than 5 mg of Cholesterol per serving.

Other Ingredients: Purified deep sea fish oil (from anchovies and sardines), soft gel capsule (gelatin, water, glycerin, natural lemon flavor), natural lemon flavor, d-alpha tocopherol, rosemary extract (a natural preservative).

The amount of EPA (650 mg) + DHA (450 mg) = 1,100 mg total EPA/DHA combined in each 2 softgel serving. The purchase price is $27.95 for a 30-day supply of 60 softgels. So, the cost of getting 1,100 mg EPA/DHA per day (100 mg less than the amount in Cooper Complete Advanced Omega-3) is $0.93. ($27.95 / 30 servings = $0.93.)

The average American eats seafood about once every 11 days. If you’re in this category, consciously make a commitment to start eating at least one serving of fatty fish per week. An albacore tuna sandwich at lunch, a perfectly grilled piece of salmon for dinner, or a snack of sardines in tomato sauce atop a couple of saltine crackers are all great ways to incorporate omega-3 EPA and DHA into our diet. Omega-3 supplements are a great way to augment healthy eating habits.

Article by Jill Turner, President Cooper Concepts

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