Researchers find salmon healthier than supplements

Posted by Isobel Drake on 8th December 2008

New research from Massey’s Institute of Food, Health and Human Nutrition in New Zealand has discovered that omega-3 capsules can provide a similar boost of the fatty acid but lack other nutrients offered by one of the world’s richest sources of omega-3 – Salmon.

The popularity of omega-3 has escalated over recent years as the health benefits of the nutrient have come to light, with food and supplement producers looking to add a healthy boost to their products.

Researchers at Massey’s Institute of Food, Health and Human Nutrition in Albany investigated whether salmon or fish oil tablets are better for people to increase their omega-3 fatty acid status. Omega-3 is gaining in popularity for its numerous and well-documented benefits including protection from heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and eye diseases as well as enhancing brain function and helping combat mood disorders such as depression.

Omega-3 can be obtained from a range of plant sources such as flaxseeds, walnuts and canola and soybean oil as well as animal sources such as fish, meat and eggs. However, the best source is fish oil, according to Associate Professor Welma Stonehouse, who coordinated the study.

When researchers compared a group of healthy volunteers who ate a 120g portion of salmon twice a week with another group who took salmon oil capsules containing the equivalent omega-3, participants were found to have similar levels of omega-3 in the blood, Professor Stonehouse reported.

“What we also found was that the people who consumed salmon were able to significantly increase their blood concentrations of selenium compared to the group who took capsules,” she said.

Selenium is an important antioxidant in the body and has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer.

“Because soils in New Zealand are low in selenium, the selenium content in our food is low making New Zealand one of the countries with the lowest selenium status in the world.”

While the idea of popping a pill for health may seem simpler and quicker than pan-roasting a piece of salmon, Dr Stonehouse reported that participants found the fish portion easier to digest than capsules.

“The participants who took the capsules had various complaints about burping, unpleasant breath, tiredness and nausea whereas the participants who ate salmon tolerated it very well,” she noted.

Professor Stonehouse said that one of the barriers to eating salmon is that it is perceived as being too expensive. But replacing beef with a 150g portion of salmon a week would add just $2.50 to the grocery bill. The cost of consuming good quality fish oil tablets is between $2 and $10 a week, she suggested.

“Fish seems to be the recommended option if you want to increase your omega-3 status,” she concluded – offering welcome news to seafood retailers. Professor Stonehouse added that for those who don’t like salmon, using fish oil capsules can still prove effective in boosting omega-3 levels.

Two years ago researchers at Massey’s Riddet Centre in Palmerston North developed technology to allow the active ingredients of omega-3 in fish oil to be incorporated into foods at high levels without the taste and smell of fish. They have since created peach flavoured ice cream with omega-3.