Everything has omega-3

Walking the supermarket aisles, you may have lately noticed that numerous new products are appearing sporting "omega-3s" on the label.

Some products simply contain alpha-linolenic acid, a tiny amount of which is converted to the biologically active omega-3s, EPA and DHA. Natural Ovens' Brainy Bagel, for instance, carries a claim of "620 omega-3."

I find this confusing and misleading, since people will often interpret such a claim to mean that it contains 620 of EPA and DHA, similar to two capsules of standard fish oil (1000 mg capsules). Of course, it does NOT. I find this especially troublesome when people will actually stop or reduce their fish oil, since they've been misled into thinking that products like this bread contain active omega-3 fatty acids that yield all the benefits of the "real stuff."

Other products actually contain the omega-3, DHA, though usually in small quantities. Breyer's Smart with DHA is an example, with 32 mg DHA per container.

I find products with actual DHA (from algae) a more credible claim. However, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has looked at the actual contents of DHA in some of these products and found some discrepancies, including amounts of DHA less than the labeled amount and claims of omega-3 wihtout specifying DHA vs. linolenic acid. (It's probably linolenic acid, if it's not specified.)

All in all, the addition of DHA to food products is a nice way to boost your intake of this healthy omega-3. However, keep in mind that these are processed, often highly processed, foods and you will likely pay a premium for the little boost. For now, stick to fish oil, the real thing.

For a brief summary of the CSPI report and a link to the Nutrition Action Newsletter, see Omega-3 Madness: Fish Oil or Snake Oil.

Comments (5) -

  • ethyl d

    11/8/2007 5:38:00 PM |

    I get really annoyed sometimes when grocery shopping by all the food manufacturers trying to manipulate us into buying their product by trumpeting whatever health angle they can get away with. "Only 100 calories!" "Good source of fiber!" "Low-fat!" Only 1g carb per serving!" "25% less sugar!" They sniff the air for whatever the latest health trend is and see how they can get their product modified a little while still remaining junk to cash in on the trend. They don't care about our health, they just want our money.

  • Michael

    11/8/2007 7:00:00 PM |

    There is one thing I am unsure about regarding all of the 'omega-3' products -- is it even healthy for men to use omega-3 products derived from non-fish (flax)? ALA has been shown to raise the risk of prostate cancer, although some studies also show other aspects of flax decreases the risk (making it all nice and confusing). I've also read, that for some people, who can't convert ALA to omega very well in their bodies,  flax can also raise inflammation levels.

    Should men even bother taking flax or products with  flax omega, at all? My own cardiologist pushes flax on me, oddly enough, even though I guzzle down plenty of fish oil. When I mention possible problems from flax, she basically drops the subject, leaving me in the dark as to why she suggested it in the first place.

  • Cindy Moore

    11/9/2007 4:21:00 AM |

    I saw a commercial for baby food with added DHA being marketed at helping your baby's brain development.

  • Carl

    11/10/2007 9:02:00 PM |

    I found this little article to contain very useful advice.  

    How to Eat - in Seven Words

    "Eat food," said Michael Pollan. "Not too much. Mostly plants."

    Seven words - short ones, no less, totaling eight syllables. Easy to spell, translate, or jot on a sticky note. But really, is that all that needs to be said?

    Pollan - a journalism professor at the University of California at Berkeley and author of the bestselling book The Omnivore's Dilemma - admits that boiling down advice on how human beings should eat to a mere seven words is dicey. A great deal, for example, depends on how one defines "food."

    But in a rousing presentation to a packed room of health professionals at the Fourth Annual Nutrition and Science Conference in San Diego, Calif., on May 2, 2007, Pollan argued that Americans have gone astray when it comes to thinking about food. While other cultures define food in terms of pleasure, sociability, religion or history, Americans are uniquely mesmerized by its scientific aspect.

    We are followers, Pollan said, of "nutritionism."

    "It is an ideology, a way of organizing experience," he said. "Like other 'isms' it rests on a simple set of assumptions, though we don't realize it." The connection between food, science, and health is "a real linkage," he said, "but it has overwhelmed all of the other linkages in our culture."

    Only in America, Pollan said, do people care more about food components - cholesterol, saturated fat, omega 3 oils, fiber and so on - than the foods themselves. And only in America can a low-fat craze grip the country, as it did from 1977 until 2002, to be displaced within a few months by a low-carb craze.

    The problem with nutritionism, Pollan said, is that it gives processed foods a huge advantage over whole foods. "A banana or potato cannot significantly change its structure. But any processed food can be changed overnight to correspond with food fads. You can even rejigger bread along Atkins lines." So the "loudest foods in the market" he said, are processed foods, touting their nutritional virtues via a $42 billion marketing industry, while "these poor whole foods just sit there silently."

    Thus, the irony: Americans are "a people obsessed with eating healthily, yet they are nonetheless very unhealthy."

    Nutrition science has value, Pollan said, but unbridled "nutritionism," pushed by processed food marketers has simply left people confused. In an attempt to simplify food, he came up with his seven-word, three-sentence manifesto, though he concedes that each sentence needs amplification:

    Eat food. The key term here, of course, is "food." We need to make hard distinctions between real food and "food-like products," Pollan said. Some guidelines:

    Don't eat food with more than five ingredients, or with ingredients you can't pronounce, or that contain high-fructose corn syrup (which serves as a 'marker' indicating that the food is highly processed).

    Eat only food that you have cooked, or could cook.

    Eat only food that your great, great grandmother would recognize as food.

    Not too much. The chief harm of nutritionism, Pollan said, is that processed food companies seize on "good nutrients" and "push us to eat more of them." The result is a tendency for Americans to eat more generally, which is one reason why we are consuming 300 calories more daily than in 1985. In the mass of verbiage surrounding food in America, plain overeating is "the elephant in the room." Pollan's advice to reverse the trend:

    Don't eat alone.

    Don't eat in front of the TV.

    Don't eat seconds.

    Perhaps most importantly, pay more and eat less. "I believe that the better quality food you eat, the less you need to feel satisfied."

    Mostly plants. "It's not that meat will kill you," he said. "I eat meat. Small amounts of meat have much to recommend them in terms of vitamins, minerals and taste. Most traditional diets - whether Mediterranean, Asian, Indian or Mexican, use meat sparingly, as a flavoring. I think that's an important lesson."

    By Brad Lemley
    DrWeil.com News


  • Dr. Davis

    11/10/2007 11:20:00 PM |

    For anyone who has not read Michael Pollen's book, I would strongly urge you to read this logical and entertaining discussion that attempts to re-introduce rational thinking back into diet.