Nothing Fishy about Omega-3 Fatty Acids

By Gregor Reid, U. of Guelph

What do they do and why should I care?
There has been much talk about the dietary consumption of ‘good fats’ and ‘bad fats’ in the popular press over the last several years. We now know that not all fats are created equal. Amongst these discussions you may have heard the term omega-3 fatty acids. These are some of the so-called ‘good fats’. During the past decade a great deal of research has been done on the health benefits these compounds; and so far the results are impressive!

Omega-3 fatty acids are composed of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). So what do these awfully big words mean? Well DHA and EPA boast a number of phenomenal ‘heart friendly’ properties. In a time where over a million North Americans die of heart disease each year, this is good news. DHA and EPA help make the blood less viscous by reducing the ‘stickiness’ of blood platelets in arteries. This significantly reduces the chance of coronary heart attack, which is caused by the restriction of blood flow to heart muscle via the build up of these platelets. There has also been recent evidence showing that omega-3 fatty acids reduce blood triglycerides (the basic 'molecular unit' of fat) levels.

Perhaps even more amazing are recent scientific findings, attributing several other health and growth related properties to Omega-3s. High levels of DHA in brain phospholipids, neural membrane and the retina have been found to be crucial for neural functions such as learning ability, memory and visual acuity. There has also been recent evidence suggesting that omega-3s are effective reducing the activity index of inflammatory gastrointestinal diseases such as Chron's Disease; play an important role in fetal neurological development; facilitate the treatment of kidney disorders; and has a favorable effect on rheumatoid arthritis.

Implications of Omega-3s in Fish
Dr. Bruce Holub from the University of Guelph in Ontario has been studying omega-3s for almost two decades and says the source of these fatty acids are right here at our door. The best natural source of Omega-3s containing DHA and EPA is fish. For example, there are other Omega-3s found in linseed oil, but these do not contain the physiologically useful ingredients, DHA and EPA. Holub found that consuming the equivalent of up to five servings of fish per week can reduce blood triglycerides by an impressive 35 percent. For example Japanese men between the ages of 45 and 54 have only slightly lower cholesterol levels than their Canadian counterparts, but the incidence of heart attacks in these Japanese men is many times lower. Holub believes the difference could be largely due to their higher intake of fish. These findings may have some profound implications for health programs in North America.

"We can't have a large percentage of our population on expensive triglyceride lowering synthetic drugs [with side effects]. But by eating fish two to three times a week, we certainly can intervene with omega-3 fish oil to lower triglyceride levels and
lessen our dependency on these medications" says Holub.

But all fish are not created equal. Different species can have different quantities of omega-3s. Salmon, tuna, lake trout and anchovy have a high Omega-3 content (more than 1 gram per 3.5 ounces); while rainbow trout, halibut, bass and shark have a
medium Omega-3 content; catfish, cod, pike and sole have a lesser content.

All of this is great news if you like fish. But what if you don’t? The bad news is that fish are pretty much the only significant natural source of Omega-3s containing DHA and EPA. However, due to the recent health benefit publicity, some egg producers have devised a method of enhancing eggs with these fatty acids. This fact is usually prominently indicated on the carton. There are also Omega-3 vitamin supplements available for those of you unable to coordinate your cooking or convert your taste buds.

 If you do a little digging you will find all sorts of great fish recipes. 
You may want to try this one for starters. 

Trout Piquante
Prepare in 10 minutes, Cook in 30


6 trout (char works just as well), fresh or frozen
about 250g (8 oz.) each
2/3 cup (150 ml) mustard
1 cup (250 ml) vinegar
1 cup (250 ml) sugar 
1/2 tsp. (2mL) liquid hot pepper sauce
1/4 tsp. (1mL) summer savory
1/4 tsp. (150 ml) chicken Bouillon


Thaw trout if frozen (fillet if necessary); wash and pat dry arrange in 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan. A non-stick pan is preferable. In a saucepan, combine mustard, sugar, vinegar, liquid hot pepper sauce, spices and bouillon until blended. Cook, about 5 minutes. 

Reserve 2/3-cup (150 ml) sauce and keep warm to serve with cooked fish. Pour remaining sauce over and inside cavities of Trout. Bake in preheated oven at 350ºF (175ºC) basting frequently, for 25 to 30 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Serves 4.

If the above recipe doesn't interest you visit these web sites for more other great fish recipes

Fish and Seafood for all Seasons

British Columbia Salmon Farmers: Recipes

United States Trout Farmers Association

Will Omega-3s help me be a better martial artist?
Omega-3 fatty acids may not put more power behind your punch or add more crescent to your kick, but it will contribute significantly to your overall health. Then again, there seem to be many people who sport fish for the challenge of reeling in a fighter. Coincidence?

The following benefits have been attributed to Omega-3 fatty acids

Heart disease prevention and management

Reduction in the activity index of inflammatory gastrointestinal 
diseases such as Chron's Disease

Facilitates fetal neurological growth and development

Reduces kidney disorders

Increases visual acuity

Facilitates neural activity

Regulates depression

Physical Training January 2000