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In Praise of Non-Fishy DHA

Docosahexaenoic acid or DHA — an omega-3 fatty acid — has been in the news a lot in recent years. Getting enough omega-3 fatty acid has been linked to protecting the brain from Alzheimer’s and improving memory overall. It’s also been looked at for its antidepressant properties. One study found that men who don’t have enough DHA may be at risk for infertility. And then there’s the strong link to heart health. From a Mayo Clinic story:

“Doctors have long recognized that the unsaturated fats in fish, called omega-3 fatty acids, appear to reduce the risk of dying of heart disease. For many years, the American Heart Association has recommended that people eat fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids at least twice a week.”

And that’s where you lose me. I am not a fan of fish. I am a tuna-only kind of gal both because I don’t love the taste, and I am worried when the Food & Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency come out and warn against eating too much fish due to high levels of mercury and PCBs. (And that was before the BP oil spill, which HAS to affect the fish in that area — where we get most of our fish.) Okay, digressing…so bottom line: While I know plenty of people who take fish oil supplements and eat their weekly fish, I am not one of them. Sigh. I’ve been getting my omegas from flax seed (love, love, love Trader Joe’s Soy & Flaxseed Tortilla Chips) and eggs. Last night, I went to a food event in the city, and found another source of DHA, though: life’sDHA, which is DHA that comes directly from algae.

I have to admit when I got to the event and saw life’sDHA I almost walked by. I hate telling people I don’t want to taste their products, and in this case I assumed fish. But I stopped and read the paraphernalia.

“Martek’s microalgae are grown in fermentors that range in size from 80,000 to 260,000 liters. The algae are then harvested and processed to extract the DHA-rich oil. The finished product is a clear, amber-colored oil rich in DHA.”

Hmmm. Okay, so that sounded good. But then another editor there asked the Martek guy about the extraction process, which, she said, used hexane, an explosive volatile solvent that is a byproduct of gasoline refining. (Uggg. A petroleum product AND a neurotoxin!) The Martek guy was very clear: The life’sDHA in the products that you find in the supermarket do not use hexane. I emailed him today just to be sure. His response:

“You are absolutely correct. For our foods and beverages, we use a water-based extraction process. Basically, we crush the algae and separate the DHA with a water extraction.”

Okay, that sounded better. (I’d still like to see the use of hexane dropped completely. From what I understand it is used to extract all the DHA used in baby formulas.) Of course, health benefits aside, if the food tastes like algae, I’m not eating it.

I was lucky enough to taste several of the products that contain the life’sDHA including Cabot reduced fat cheddar cheese with Omega-3 DHA and Francesco Rinaldi ToBe Healthy Pasta Sauces. Both were actually really yummy. So now, while I won’t stop eating my flax seeds, I have another option when it comes to eating omega acids.

Of course, you can get too much of a good thing, so before you start scarfing down omegas, do a little research. As May Clinic’s dietitian Katherine Zeratsk explained in a recent podcast: “…if someone were to take too much of a supplement, or have a diet extremely rich in the fatty fishes, you should be concerned about exceeding these limits because they could potentially lead to a side effect such as bleeding — something as devastating as a stroke or as simple as a nosebleed.”

Zeratsk also says it’s “extremely difficult” to take in too much, but just thought I’d put it out there. As the old adage says, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Do you worry about getting enough omega acids in your diet? How do you do it if you do worry? I’d like to know.

BTW: This post is how I am participating this week in Real Food Wednesdays and Fight Back Fridays — two awesome campaigns to get people eating real food again.

3 Responses to “In Praise of Non-Fishy DHA”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Check out Flaxseed Oil!!! It tastes lemony and 1/2 tsp gets you the daily suggested amount! Its sold at more natural type grocery stores in various forms but the refrigerated version is 14.99 and it lasts over a month for daily use. Its the only kind of Omega 3 supplement that I can take and not get an upset stomach. My 1 year old takes it and it doesn’t seem to bother him either. Good luck! I love reading your blog!

  2. Glad you stopped to see what they had to say! So many people who have shunned the notion of being able to get enough Omega 3′s (not b/c they don’t want to… but b/c as you say, a lot of folks just aren’t gonna go the fish route) don’t realize that there are actually tasty foods out there that contain life’sDHA.

    I’m admittedly a big fan of Cabot’s 50% Reduced Fat Omega-3/DHA cheese *grin*… glad you liked it as well! With young children in the house, I struggle to get them eating enough fish, too. Cheese and some of the other fortified foods tend to be a bit easier for us.

    I heard it was a great event. Glad you could attend.

    ~Regan Jones, RD
    for Cabot Creamery Cooperative

  3. Colin says:

    The problem with a lot of foods with added omega3 is that the amount is so low that it has very little benefit. Don’t know about the flaxseed oil, but even when buying the concentrated fish-oil supplements I struggled to find any with the recommended concentrations of EPA and DHA. In fact I struggle at times to find products which publish quantity’s of each. The Algae based one I found previously “V-Pure Omega 3 Vegetarian EPA & DHA” does publish & has 400mg of DHA but only 10mg of EPA. It would be good to have a clear report/comparison between what is out there, especially non-fish oil options since no matter how good the manufacturers say that they taste every one I have tried has left me with fishy burps soon after & getting my son to take any has been impossible.

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