You may have heard good things about both fish oil and flaxseed oil because of the high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids. So is one better than the other?
A little lesson on omega-3 fatty acids
This is the gold mine of fat. Our brain tissue is made up of ~60% fat (lipids), so fat is obviously a good thing to have in our diet! There are two required nutrients for the brain- eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). You’ve probably heard these words in any baby formula commercial because they support brain development. DHA is important in protecting us agains brain diseases like Alzheimers or Parkinson’s. Inadequate omega-3s in the diet has also been linked to depression. Omega-3s are known for suppressing inflammation (inflammation leads to diseases like Type-2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc). The best way to get EPA and DHA in our bodies is from food. That brings us back to the topic of fish oil benefits versus flaxseed or other foods.
Flaxseed ranks #2 to fish oil
Flaxseed and walnuts are plant sources that contain alpha-linoleic acid which is converted into EPA. However, our bodies only convert 10-15% of the alpha-linoleic acid we consume into EPA and only 5% of that EPA might convert to DHA in the brain. Also, flaxseed must be ground or in the form of oil to reap the benefits. We barely absorb anything if it’s not ground up before ingesting. The flaxseed kernels in those cool, multigrain wraps aren’t doing much for you other than adding some roughage to your diet. You may see on the label “one serving contains 1 ounce of flaxseed, equivalent to 3 grams of omega-3s!” but if it’s from flaxseed, you can multiply that 3 by 10% to get the actual amount your body will convert to EPA (0.3g). Compare that to 4 ounces of salmon which contains omega-3s already in the form of EPA and DHA: 2.2 grams, 100% EPA/DHA. Unless you have a fish allergy or do not eat fish for other reasons, fish oil from cold-water fish is the superior choice.
Krill oil is another popular supplement sharing shelf space with fish oil. Krill contain smaller amounts of omega-3s compared to cold-water fish like salmon. They do contain more antioxidants which gives krill their pink color; however, the effectiveness of encapsulated antioxidants is unknown and, to be fair, wild salmon get their pink color from eating krill. Double whammy in my book.
Tips for buying Omega-3 fish oil
Our brains need omega-3 fatty acids for optimal performance. If you don’t eat salmon 2-3 times a week, you would benefit from an omega-3 supplement. If you need delicious recipes so you will eat more salmon, I’ve got a couple recipes here at BFH as well as Pinterest! I won’t promote a specific brand, but I highly recommend not purchasing your fish oil from some Joe-Shmo vitamin store. Do a little research (not comments from discussion forums) and make sure it’s a reputable brand. I recommend that the EPA:DHA ratio to be at least 600:400. Read the label and do the math if you would be taking 2-3 capsules/day instead of a triple strength capsule once per day. If you’re afraid of the fish burps (they are gross, I learned the hard way by taking a capsule before a run), you can avoid this by freezing the capsules, taking them before bed, or purchasing “burpless” capsules. If you don’t like pills, there is also flavored liquid fish oil that comes with a dropper. No excuses
Before you start popping pills
Even though I am a registered dietitian, I explain in my disclaimer that this site is to provide general information on food, fitness, and finance; it is NOT sufficient for personal medical advice. It would be one thing if I met with you one-on-one, but that’s obviously not the case here at Budget for Health. If you have any medical conditions, take prescription medication, or have any concerns, speak with your doctor first before taking an omega-3 supplement.
What are your favorite ways to prepare O3-rich salmon?