Maintain your brain

Maintain your brain

Jeff Grossman

COD LIVER OIL MAY BE good for you, but it sure tastes awful. Old-fashioned fish oil–usually in pill form–has regained its popularity as a health supplement now that the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, round primarily in fish oils, are rapidly being confirmed.

Food manufacturers are jumping into the fray with a range of products, from salad dressing to waffles that are supplemented with omega-3s. Known primarily for keeping the heart and blood vessels fit, these fats also improve mental health. Previous studies have linked low levels of the fatty acids to higher rates of depression, bipolar disorder and suicide.

Because brain cells are encased in fat, omega-3s help maintain brain cells and keep neurotransmission fluid. Fish oils may be as effective as conventional drugs in alleviating unipolar and bipolar depression, says Andrew Stoll, director of the psychopharmacology research lab at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts.

But how much omega-3 fat is enough? The American Heart Association recommends at least two servings of fish per week to get cardiovascular benefits. A three-ounce serving of farmed Atlantic salmon has about 1,500 mg of omega-3 fat. Fish is the recommended source of omega-3s because only marine life contains eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the two most accessible forms of the fats. Also, adds Alice H. Lichtenstein, vice chair of the AHA’s nutrition committee and a professor at Tufts University in Massachusetts, a diet with regular servings of fish will likely cut down on steak, cheese and other sources of unhealthy fats. Walnuts and flaxseed are not adequate substitutes for fish, Lichtenstein says.

The ideal balance of EPA and DHA is hard to pin down, and may be different for different purposes, says Joseph Hibbeln, a psychiatrist who studies diet and behavior at the National Institutes of Health. A good starting point may be the same proportions one gets by eating fish–two to three times as much EPA as DHA.A third form of omega-3s, called alpha-linolenic acid (LNA), round in flax seeds and leafy plants, is useful because the body can convert it into EPA and DHA. But the conversion process is slow, and the same mechanism converts parts of soybean, corn and safflower oils into inflammatory omega-6s, which most Americans already consume in abundance. The production of EPA and DHA could be stymied if your body is already occupied processing omega-6, Hibbeln says.

Several factors control the amount of omega-3 available for use in the body: the amount of EPA and DHA in your diet, how much is converted from LNA and how much omega-6 your body is producing.

Omega-3s on Trial

PT STAFFERS PUT OMEGA-3

NEW PRODUCTS OMEGA-3 TYPE OF PER WHERE TO

TO THE TEST SOURCE OMEGA-3 SERVING PRICE BUY IT

NATURE’S Flax LNA 400 mg $3.29 Whole

PATH ORGANIC Foods, Wild

HEMP PLUS Oats, Trader

GRANOLA Joe’s Kroger,

health food

stores

ZOE FLAX Flax LNA 2,400 mg $3.69 Whole Foods,

& SOY GRANOLA to Wild Oats,

CEREAL WITH $4.59 GNC

CRANBERRIES

AND CURRANTS

GOLD CIRCLE Marine DHA 150 mg $1.79 Albertsons,

FARMS DHA algae to Food

OMEGA-3 EGGS fed to $1.99 Emporium,

the chi- per Vons

ckens half-

dozen

SPECTRUM Flax LNA 2 g $3.69 Natural

NATURALS foods stores,

ESSENTIAL supermarkets

OMEGA-3 with natural

SPREAD foods

LIFESTREAM Flax LNA 500 mg $2.49 Whole

NATURAL Foods, Wild

FLAX PLUS Oats, Trader

WAFFLES Joe’s, Kroger

CARBSENSE SOY Flax LNA 1,500 mg $3.89 Health food

TORTILLA CHIPS, stores

ORIGINAL FLAVOR

CINDY’S KITCHEN Fish oil EPA and 160 mg $4.99 Whole

ALL NATURAL DHA to Foods,

GINGER & CARROT $5.99 Wild Oats

VINAIGRETTE

SALAD DRESSING

PT STAFFERS PUT TASTE

NEW PRODUCTS RATING

TO THE TEST (10 is best) PT TASTERS SAY

NATURE’S 6 “Tastes good. Puffy, light and sweet”

PATH ORGANIC

HEMP PLUS “A little to sweet, a slightly bitter

GRANOLA aftertaste.”

ZOE FLAX 3 “Terrible stale aftertaste.”

& SOY GRANOLA

CEREAL WITH “Nice texture, fruit is good. But

CRANBERRIES medicinal aftertaste ruins it.”

AND CURRANTS

GOLD CIRCLE 10 “Just like regular eggs.”

FARMS DHA

OMEGA-3 EGGS “Lovely.”

SPECTRUM 6 “Very creamy. Taste like buttered

NATURALS popcorn at the movies.”

ESSENTIAL

OMEGA-3 “Jiggly. Sticks to the roof of your

SPREAD mouth.”

LIFESTREAM 7 “Pretty good, tastes very healthy.”

NATURAL

FLAX PLUS “Sort of dry, but that just seems like

WAFFLES a function of it being whole grain.”

CARBSENSE SOY 7 “A bit grainy, but tastes good.”

TORTILLA CHIPS,

ORIGINAL FLAVOR “Slightly mealy texture, but like

regular chips.”

CINDY’S KITCHEN 7 “Good in small doses.”

ALL NATURAL

GINGER & CARROT “The ginger comes on strong, but it

VINAIGRETTE tastes good. Very clean-tasting.”

SALAD DRESSING

COPYRIGHT 2004 Sussex Publishers, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group