Omega 3 fortified foods may not be all they are claimed to be

It is now generally accepted that most of us are deficient in our intake of the Omega 3 essential fatty acids. The 2 most important of these are DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) and EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid), and these are found primarily in oily fish. There is a plant-based form of Omega 3 called ALA however this is not considered to be nearly as beneficial to our health.

In the past our Omega 3 fatty acids were just part of our diet because we ate plenty of fish. However now, because of a decline in our intake of fish, most of us are deficient in the Omega3 fats and this is negatively impacting our health.

In the last decade people have turned to fish oil capsules to supplement their diet, as these fish oil supplements are cost effective and simple to take every day.

However it is now possible to get Omega 3 fortified foods. This is a marketing ploy by food manufacturers to make their foods more attractive to shoppers, but if we can get our essential fatty acids from eating Omega 3 rich foods then why not? Lets see.

This article is based on research done by The Food Commission examining this issue.

The first question to answer when examining Omega3 foods is whether or not the essential fatty acids are the plant-based form, namely ALA, or the much more important fish-based forms, namely DHA and EPA. If the essential fatty acids are based on the plant-based form they are much less useful to our health.

So the first question to ask yourself if you are buying Omega 3 fortified foods is what form of essential fatty acids are found in the foods? If it is impossible to tell because the label does not specify then we suggest you treat those foods with some suspicion.

Note that of the survey done by The Food Commission on 21 products purchased from food retailers, around a third had plant-based Omega 3 fatty acids. So it is well worthwhile examining the label to check that the Omega3 fats are EPA and DHA.

Are omega 3 fortified foods worth it?

The second question to ask yourself if you’re considering buying Omega 3 rich foods is how much of the fatty acids are in the food and how much you would need to eat to get your daily recommended allowance?

There are no universally recognised standards for daily recommended allowance of DHA and EPA. So, as does The Food Commission, we shall take the UK government recommended daily amount of 450 milligrams a day of fatty acids, as DHA or EPA, for the purposes of this article. (Note that the European standard according to the European food safety authority is 250 milligrams per day, considered by many to be too low).

Interestingly, according to the survey which examined the levels of essential fatty acids found in the various foods, it would be necessary to eat relatively large amounts of any of these foods to reach the recommended daily intake of 450 milligrams per day.

For example you would need to eat 8 of the fish fingers examined, 6 tins of Heinz ravioli, 23 slices of Omega 3 fortified white bread and so on. You get the picture. Whilst these products may be fortified with Omega 3 fatty acids there is not a lot in there.

In fact it is much cheaper and you will probably do much better in terms of Omega 3 intake eating a can of mackerel for your Omega 3, or taking capsules.

And the third question to ask yourself is what are you eating along with the Omega3 fats? Because of course many of these foods are high in salt, sugar and saturated fat, and whilst you may be getting modest amounts of essential fatty acids in your Omega3 fortified foods you are also eating the salt, sugar and other fats which are not healthy.

For example Heinz Spiderman pasta shapes with sausages were examined, and to get the recommended amount of Omega 3 fatty acids you would need to eat 6 cans of these. 6 cans would provide you with 17.4 grams of saturated fat.

Whilst the Omega 3 fatty acids may be healthy the saturated fat that comes with them is not.

So as you can see eating Omega 3 fortified foods may not be the panacea you thought.

If that is the case then what should you do to add more essential fatty acids to your diet and attract all those health benefits? You should eat more oily fish, though this can be expensive, unless you buy canned varieties such as mackerel. Personally we get pretty tired of eating canned mackeral.

And fish is now recognised to be a source of contamination as fish are generally contaminated with various industrial toxins.

Or you can take fish oil capsules. These are cost effective, and the best ones are quite clean.

So there’s some food for thought if you’ve been considering buying Omega 3 rich foods like Omega 3 fortified bread.

There’s no doubt getting more essential fatty acids in your diet is healthy, it’s just a question of how you go about it.

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