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Salmon beats fish oil pills for omega-3, selenium

Friday, December 5, 2008
Salmon outranks fish oil pills for omega-3 and selenium

researcher Melanie Pauga preparing a salmon sample for
laboratory analysis.
Nutrition researcher Melanie Pauga preparing a salmon sample for laboratory analysis.

Swallowing fish oil capsules for brain boosting, health-promoting omega-3 may be just as effective as tucking into a fillet of salmon. But if you want a dose of selenium as well – an element many New Zealanders are lacking – then go for the salmon fillet, say Massey researchers.

Researchers at Massey’s Institute of Food, Health and Human Nutrition in Albany investigated which of salmon or fish oil tablets is 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, in the form of salmon or fish oil capsules, says 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, she says.

“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 says.

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. This is an important finding for the New Zealand population.”

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 says.

She says 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 says.

“Fish seems to be the recommended option if you want to increase your omega-3 status. For people who don’t like salmon, using fish oil capsules will be just as effective.”

New Zealand King Salmon provided salmon for the study.

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.


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