Article by Ceri Wheeldon
We all know that to live an active healthy life, diet is key, but how do we know if we are in fact consuming the right nutrients to support our bodies (and our health) in the optimum way?
Omega 3 is essential in maintaining healthy heart function, support normal bone function maintenance of normal vision and support of normal brain function.
The primary source of Omega 3 in our diet is oily fish. I eat what I always believed to be a balanced, healthy diet which loosely follows the principles of a Mediterranean diet, and I typically have salmon three times a week, so I thought I would score well when tested for the levels of both EPA and DHA (the main nutrients of Omega 3) in my bloodstream, as I eat more than the 140 grams of recommended oily fish per week.
Taking part in a Seven Seas Experiment
When asked if I would like to take part in a experiment by Seven Seas, on the effect of diet and supplements on my EPA and DHA levels I said yes, as I was interested to see just how effective my diet was. At the start of the 3 month trial I did a finger prick blood test which was sent off to be analysed at University of Stirling, and then reviewed by Professor Philip Calder, Professor of Nutritional Immunology at the University of Southampton.
I was quite surprised by the results. The Omega 3 Index test analysed the Omega 3 fatty acid content of my red blood cells. The emphasis was on the EPA and DHA levels, as a greater content of these in red blood cells is linked with better health – and could be used as an indicator of heart health. An Omega 3 index of 3 or 4 or below would be cause for concern, while an index of 8 would be a good sign.
Given that I follow what I thought of as a healthy diet, I was disappointed in my results, which came back with an index of 5.5, which although not giving cause for concern, could have been better. Professor Calder suggested I include more oily fish in my diet, or take a supplement. I really didn’t want to eat salmon more than 3 times a week-it would become boring! So, I had a chat about my results with Seven Seas consultant dieticianHelen Bond, so see where I was going wrong, and where I could improve.
Helen reassured me that my results were not bad and probably better than most of the population, but there was room for improvement. She asked me about my diet, which comprises mainly of chicken, fish, turkey, avocado, Mediterranean vegetables, and rice. Overall we agreed my diet was healthy but needed to be tweaked. I tend to eat foods with anti-inflammatory properties to manage an ongoing issue with my digestive system. I avoid red meat and pasteurised dairy.
What foods are high in Omega 3?
So what could I do to ‘up’ my Omega 3 intake?
Salmon isn’t the best oily fish when it comes to Omega 3, mackerel, sardines and herrings are far better – but unfortunately I don’t like any of these. So are kippers (perhaps there is something to be said when having kippers for breakfast was commonplace!) – also not an attractive option for me. The first thing I could do was swap my wild salmon for farmed salmon – as it seems that contrary to what I thought, farmed salmon has a higher level of Omega 3 than wild salmon. Canned fish is also a good source – including red salmon – although apparently not canned tuna – which loses its Omega 3 during the canning process.
Shellfish, dark crabmeat, mussels were also options, so were other fish, including rainbow trout and seabass and haddock – although you would have to eat approximately 30 times more haddock than mackerel to consume the same amount of Omega 3!
But what about plant based alternatives? While not as potent, linseeds, flaxseeds and walnuts are good sources.
Taking an Omega 3 supplement
To really increase my Omega 3 intake and my EPA and DHA levels we agreed that changes in my diet, given the amount of salmon I was already eating, and the fact that I don’t actually like mackerel or herrings, were not likely to make enough of a difference and so I should take a supplement . I had started to take the Seven Seas Simply Timeless Omega-3 Fish Oil Plus Cod Liver Oil capsules which also have Vitamin D (not enough sunshine here in the UK!) to support strong bones and immune function, and Vitamin E . I will continue to take these (they are available from Boots) for 12 weeks. I am due to repeat the fingerprint blood test in early August, so it will be interesting to see what impact the changes to my diet together with the supplement has on my levels.
Helen also suggested I find ways of adding more calcium to my diet – I already eat almonds, but she also suggested more cheese, and green leafy vegetables. Another piece of advice from Helen was to ask for an NHS Health check to my blood for other levels including cholesterol.
This is an interesting exercise for me, epecially as I had considered my diet to be well balanced and healthy. It just goes to show that we should be constantly reviewing what we eat and look for ways to improve. So much of our health is within our own control, and relatively small changes could make a big difference. Interestingly Seven Seas have started what they are referring to as the #TRUEAGE movement – living the age we feel on the inside. There is much we can do to help ourselves. My mother is in her late 70s and has more energy than anyone else I know – the only supplement she takes is a Cod Liver Oil capsule. I am looking forward reviewing the results of my next test to see just how much of a difference taking the Cod Liver Oil capsules makes.