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Whole Salmon Favored over Fish Oil Pills
12/16/2008
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New Zealanders cite high selenium levels, plus abundant omega-3s; wild salmon is also uniquely abundant in vitamin D
by Craig Weatherby


Swallowing fish oil capsules for brain boosting, health-promoting omega-3 may be just as effective as tucking into a fillet of salmon.

And our wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon omega-3 capsules (and liquid) provide an ideal supplemental option.

They’re unrefined, certified pure and potent, and as close to the eating the fat of the whole fish as you can get.

But if you want a dose of selenium as well, then go for the salmon fillet, say researchers at New Zealand’s Massey University.

And, we would add, you’ll get a uniquely rich dose of vitamin D from wild salmon fillets as well.

Researchers at the university’s Institute of Food, Health and Human Nutrition investigated whether salmon or fish oil tablets are better for people to increase their omega-3 fatty acid status.

Long-chain omega-3s from fish (EPA and DHA) possess well-documented benefits, including enhanced heart, mood, brain, and eye health, with anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.

(The short-chain omega-3s in plants are valuable as raw material from which the body can make essential long-chain omega-3s, but they are not as directly useful or impactful in the body.)

New Zealand study affirms superior value of whole fish verus fish oil pills
Associate Professor Welma Stonehouse, who coordinated the new study, had these comments in a university press release (our clarifying comments added in brackets): “…the best source [of omega-3s] is fish oil, in the form of salmon [and other fatty fish] or fish oil capsules” (Massey University 2008).

When she and fellow researchers compared a group of healthy volunteers who ate a 4.2 oz (120 gram) portion of salmon twice a week with another group who took salmon oil capsules containing the equivalent amount of omega-3s, all the participants showed similar levels of omega-3s in their blood.

Seafood is rich in selenium
Salmon is certainly a rich source of selenium, but some of our selection offers even more of the mineral… though not as much vitamin D or omega-3s.

All figures are in micrograms (mcg) and come from USDA data tables for cooked seafood, or canned where noted.

The US RDA is 55 mcg, and few other food sources even come close to these levels per serving:

Selenium per 3.5 oz serving
  • Albacore Tuna (canned) 60
  • Sardines (canned) 52.7
  • Mackerel (canned) 51.6
  • Halibut 46.8
  • Sablefish 46.8
  • Pollock 46.8
  • King Salmon (chinook) 46.8
  • King Crab 40
  • Shrimp/Prawns 39.6
  • Silver Salmon (coho) 38
  • Sockeye Salmon (red) 37.8
  • Cod 37.6
  • Scallops 27.9
But there was a significant difference: “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,” said Dr. Stonehouse (Massey University 2008).

Selenium is an important antioxidant in the body and has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. (See our accompanying article, “Can Selenium Curb Cancer?”).

While the idea of popping a pill for health may seem simpler and quicker than pan-roasting a piece of salmon, Dr Stonehouse says 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 said (Massey University 2008).

Dr. Stonehouse made the obvious point: “Fish seems to be the recommended option if you want to increase your omega-3 status… [but] for people who don't like salmon [or other fatty fish], using fish oil capsules will be just as effective” (Massey University 2008).

We should note that the study used donated, farmed King salmon. Wild salmon is much higher in vitamin D, and has much less pro-inflammatory omega-6 fat.


Sources
  • Massey University. Salmon outranks fish oil pills for omega-3 and selenium. December 5, 2008. Accessed online December 13, 2008 at http://www.massey.ac.nz/massey/about-us/news/article.cfm?mnarticle=salmon-outranks-fish-oil-pills-for-omega-3-and-selenium-05-12-2008
  • The World's Healthiest Foods / The George Mateljan Foundation (WHF). Selenium Fact Sheet. Accessed online December 13, 2008 at http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=95

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