Omega-3 fatty acids are a critical part of our everyday diet, and they assist with brain health and disease prevention. While you are probably well aware of the answer to the question of what are omega 3 fatty acids, a common question is whether you need to eat fish in order to obtain these essential fats. Keep reading as we try to uncover some of the lies we are told about fish oil and the key considerations to keep in mind when consuming fish oil in the future.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids: an overview
While the fish oil industry is a market that’s worth billions, there are safer and cleaner alternatives that many consumers are considering. Omega-3 fatty acids are used worldwide in a huge variety of products, including foods, drinks, pet food, and medicine. Fatty acids are the largest market segment within the omega-3 industry when compared by volume and value. If you are wondering what are omega 3 fatty acids, they are essential fats that all of us need to obtain in some way through our diet. They help to fight depression, reduce liver fat, minimize the risk of asthma and lower blood triglycerides. It’s recommended that you eat fatty fish twice a week in order to meet the recommended dietary requirements. For non-fish eaters, flaxseeds and walnuts are other alternatives, but they are usually thought to be less effective than fish.
However, while the public is generally focused on marine sources in order to obtain omega-3, there is little concern from them in regards to the pressure that’s being put on the fish oil market. As more healthcare providers recommend omega-3 consumption is increased, it’s almost impossible for the fish market to keep up with this growing demand. The trillions of sea animals that are killed each year are one of the top reasons for looking for more sustainable alternatives for fish oil in the future.
The Benefits of Omega 3 Fatty Acids to the Human Body
Our brains are made up of about 60% fat, which is essential for both brain function and integrity. We need to obtain these essential fatty acid building blocks through our diet, as our bodies can’t make them. They are needed throughout life and pregnancy for growth and to prevent disease. There are three different omega-3 fatty acid molecules: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is found within plant oils, however, EPA and DHA are found in fish, which is why consumers are encouraged to eat fatty fish or consume fish oil. DHA is critical for the human brain, as it makes up 90% of the omega-3 fatty acids in our brains.
Common Misconceptions About Consuming Fish
With all of the advertising for omega-3 consumption via fish, you might think this is the only way in which you can add these fatty acids to your diet. However, omega-3 acids are the result of the sun beating down on the ocean, when the energy that’s released is converted into omega-3 by the algae that are present in the water. The algae are eaten by krill, which are then eaten by fish. In fact, some farmed fish are even given supplements in order to offer additional omega-3 to consumers. By going straight to the source, there would be benefits to humans who are looking to minimize the risk of heavy metals from consuming fish.
Heavy Metals in Fish
Although some heavy metals like iron are essential for our bodies, others like mercury are incredibly harmful. Through natural processes, mercury makes its way into the environment and is then absorbed in low quantities by fish and shellfish. However, when too much of this is consumed by humans, it can be unsafe for our bodies. Some types of fish, such as herring, trout, and mackerel, are promoted for high omega-3 content, but in fact, they lead to humans increasing the amount of mercury in their bodies. The health issues that mercury cause, such as damage to the immune system, lungs, or kidneys, is something that we should all be aware of, especially during pregnancy and for younger children.
Fish Farming and Its Impact on the Environment
As well as the potential harm to our bodies that fish farming can cause, we should also be concerned about the environmental impact of the fish market. Since 1990, there has been a 527 percent increase in aquaculture production worldwide, and now many fish species are overfished and exploited. Overfishing is linked to bycatch, where other species are unintentionally caught at the same time as the target species. On top of that, fishing relies on fossil fuels and it causes immense damage to the environment with the number of fishing nets that can be found in the oceans.
Alternatives to Fish Oil
While fish oil is one way to get your recommended dosage of omega-3, there are now alternatives coming onto the market. Companies such as Vivo Life are starting to produce plant-based omega-3 products, which use pure DHA and EPA. As algae are lower in the food chain compared to fish, it’s a more sustainable solution that is also vegan-friendly. Also, these products can be tested for the presence of heavy metals to ensure there are minimal traces of lead, mercury, or arsenic. These clean products may even be better for our health than eating fish, but of course, more research and development are still needed in this area.
While you are likely very aware of what are omega 3 fatty acids, as we can see, there are alternative solutions to eating fish in order to get the recommended intake of omega-3 in our diets. With the concerns about fish farming and its risks to our health and the environment, it’s no surprise that companies are beginning to develop vegan and vegetarian-friendly solutions. We expect this industry to only increase in the future as consumers start to look for more sustainable solutions which will still offer a source of omega-3 and the excellent health benefits of these fatty acids.