Omega 3s: Do we need to supplement?

We have all received the message that Omega 3s are really important to one’s personal nutrition. We should eat more fish or include Omega 3fish oil supplements to our diets. Fish oil may be recommended by a doctor in order to help lower cholesterol or reduce inflammation in the body. Why are Omega 3’s lacking in our diet and why do we seem to need so much of it?

What is Omega 3?

To answer these questions, we must first understand what an Omega 3 is. Omega 3s are a type of long chain of fatty acid molecules. These fatty acids serve as important functions to the body. They are used for tissues in the brain, eyes and cell membranes. These fatty acids compose some of the most important parts of the human body. This is why pregnant woman are encouraged to take Omega 3s (or DHA supplements- a type of Omega 3). Similarly, breast milk is naturally high in Omega 3s and infant formulas are now being fortified with DHA and EPA (another type of Omega 3, both found naturally in breast milk).

When Omega 3 fatty acids are broken down in the body, they make Cytokines. Cytokines promote anti-inflammatory cell signals. In contrast, when Omega 6 or Omega 9 fatty acids are broken down, they produce pro-inflammatory cell signals. There are two key things to understand about this process. Firstly, there is an imbalance of the ratio of Omega 3s,Omega 6s and 9s in our modern day food supply. Omega 6s and Omega 9s are found in refined vegetable oils, such as soybean, safflower and corn oil. These oils are used in many processed foods. In addition, because animals are commonly fed corn, their fatty tissues are higher in these pro-inflammatory fats. Animals who are grass-fed and/or eat their natural diet have higher levels of Omega 3s as well as a better ratio of Omega 3s to Omega 6s and 9s. Another important thing to remember is that many chronic diseases and ailments are caused by or exacerbated by inflammation. These include cardiovascular disease, cancer, asthma, allergies, arthritis and more.

How can Omega 3’s benefit us?

Based on this provided information, Omega 3’s can help prevent and/or alleviate many chronic health problems. One way to reap the nutritional benefits of Omega 3’s would be to eat a diet that is low in processed foods and higher in whole foods, including animal products from animals that are fed their natural diet (meat, eggs, dairy products).

These foods are also naturally high in Omega 3’s:

  • Cold water fish, such as salmon, halibut, and sardines
  • Walnuts
  • Chia seeds and flax seeds
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Canola oil

To learn more about an anti-inflammatory diet or how your family’s diet may be impacting their health, schedule an appointment to see one of our registered dietitians. They can help you modify your pantry and kitchen to help prevent or alleviate inflammatory diseases.

All about Vitamins and Supplements for Kids

There are many vitamins and supplements that are marketed towards children and parents. Do all children need vitamins? Which oneschild with vitamin should they have? Are the gummy vitamins just as effective as the non-gummy vitamins? The following questions will help clarify when at what vitamins may be appropriate for your kids:

What vitamins should I give to my children?

The answer to this question needs to be from your pediatrician or a registered dietitian. It is an individualized answer that is based upon your own child’s nutrition intake as well as their medical needs. Vitamins and minerals do have recommended “upper limits” of dosage. Exceeding these upper limits can have harmful effects on the body. This is especially true of fat soluble vitamins.These fat soluble vitamins are stored in the body for a longer period of time than water soluble vitamins. The fat soluble vitamins are A, D, E and K. There are many situations in which vitamin supplementation is very important. Make sure to consult with a medical professional before giving your child any vitamins or supplements.

Does The Brand Matter?

Vitamins and supplements are not tightly regulated in the United States, especially compared to other foods and pharmaceuticals. The FDA has strict guidelines as well as evaluation processes in order to ensure safety and validity of food and drugs in the U.S. On the other hand, in the case of supplements, there is no one regularly policing product to verify that what is on the label is what is actually in the bottle. There is no third party agency that verifies that every bottle of XYZ multivitamin actually contains 500 mg of Calcium in it. Similarly, there could be excipients (added ingredients used for manufacturing properties) or contaminants that are not listed on the label. Of course, a supplement company with these practices would not be ethical and, ultimately, will likely not be successful. The point is that brand and quality do matter greatly when it comes to supplements.

How Do I Know Which Vitamins are of Good Quality?

There are several supplement companies who produce good quality supplements. These companies use manufacturing standards and testing methods that are comparable to pharmaceutical companies.

Here are a few things to look for on labels to determine quality:

  • Labels that have dates and/or serial numbers that indicate batch testing, manufacture date and expiration date. Batch testing means that the company randomly selects a sample of supplements from a batch made and tests them in order to rule out contamination, verify quality, etc.
  • Labels that state that the supplements are food allergen-free. This means that the company takes great care in selecting what ingredients they put into their supplements. It also means that they are likely testing their products in order to make sure that there is no cross-contamination occurring from other food products that may be manufactured in the same facility.
  • Multivitamins that contain methylcobalamin as opposed to cyanocobalamin. Methylcobalamin is the natural form of B12 and is metabolized and utilized more effectively in the body compared to cyanocobalamin. The latter form is a synthetic, less expensive form of B12, but it requires additional steps to convert it to methylcobalamin in the body. Both serve as the same function, but supplement companies that use methylcobalamin are carefully selecting their ingredients.
  • Those that are recommended by pediatricians and registered dietitians. I have a list of supplement brands that are well-respected in the nutrition field as well as those that I know adhere to pharmaceutical-grade practices. Pediatricians and dietitians also research which products provide the most appropriate levels of vitamins for children based upon their needs. For example, a supplement that only contains 50 mg of calcium and no iron is not the ideal choice for a picky eater who refuses dairy and meat and needs 800 mg of calcium and 10 mg of iron daily.

The main message is to make informed decisions when it comes to giving your children vitamins. The main goal is to provide adequate nutrition through food and not supplements. To discuss your child’s nutrition needs with a registered dietitian, schedule an appointment at North Shore Pediatric Therapy.