Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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Grocery store lessons: Savi Seeds


I’ve been curious about these savi seeds (traditionally known as sacha inchi seeds) for a little while now. They claim to be “the richest source of omega-3 on the planet” with 7000 mg of omega-3 per serving. In contrast, a 75 g serving of Atlantic salmon contains just under 2000 mg of omega-3.

I came across a sample of the plain variety the other day and decided to give them a try. One was enough. As I’ve heard from other people, they taste a touch fishy, and the consistency is a little odd. They crunch and then kind of crumble in your mouth. Personal opinion aside, I wondered about their nutrition claims.

An internet search showed me that Dr Oz endorsed them as the top snack food of 2010. Not generally a good sign. The thing I wondered about most though, was the omega-3 content. It turns out that I was right to be suspicious. The form of omega-3 present in savi seeds is ALA, the same form present in other plant sources of omega-3 (such as flax). The forms of omega-3 that we need most are EPA and DHA. These are the forms present in fish and fish oils. You’ve probably heard that our bodies can convert ALA into both EPA and DHA. While true, this statement is also highly misleading. Research indicates that our bodies can convert approximately 6% of ALA into EPA and only 0-4% to DHA. These conversion rates are based on diets in which other fats are primarily saturated. When most fats are polyunsaturated (as many of ours are with use of olive oil, canola oil, and other plant oils and margarines quite common in North America and fear of butter rife) the conversion rates become even lower. This means, at most, that you’ll obtain 420 mg of EPA and 280 mg of DHA from a serving of savi seeds.

I’m not saying that savi seeds are bad for you. They are certainly a healthy snack (although coating them in sugary flavours tends to make them less so). One ounce contains about 190 calories, 8 grams of protein, 5 g of fibre, and small amounts of both iron and calcium. However, the emphasis on their omega-3 content is extremely misleading to consumers who may not be aware of the different varieties of omega-3 and the limited conversion rates in our bodies.


Of mice and omegas

Apparently the anti-omega-3 supplement trend is continuing. The latest piece of research comes from BC and shows that, in combination, omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids may be increasing inflammation in the body. The study concluded that omega-3 supplementation could be increasing gastrointestinal distress in the elderly. According to a news article quoting the lead author, “levels of omega 6 are so high in our bodies that any more unsaturated fatty acid — even omega 3, despite its health benefits — will actually contribute to the negative effects omega 6 PUFA have on the heart and gut”.

I don’t dispute the likelihood that many of us are now consuming too much omega-6. However, this study is not affecting my decision to take omega-3 supplements. As a dietitian, I know that it’s better to get my nutrients from food and I should be eating more fish. Because I don’t eat as much fish as I should, I take an omega-3 supplement.

Why isn’t this study influencing my decision to pop an omega-3 supplement every second day? Well, the study was done on mice and recent evidence shows that mice studies may not be the best models for humans. In addition, the mice were fed a high fat diet (40% of total calories) with fat coming from canola oil and corn oil, with some mice being given fish oil as well. From where I sit, this is not much of an approximation of my fat consumption and I’m sure that applies to many of you as well. I get fat from olive oil, butter, dairy products (especially yoghurt and cheese), nuts and nut butters, coconut oil, eggs, etc. Very little of my fat intake comes from canola or corn oil. In addition, 40% is quite a high intake of calories from fat – the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution (AMDR) for fat is 20-35% of total calories.

If you are consuming all (or most) of your fat from canola and corn oil and you’re eating a high-fat diet (and if you’re a mouse) then perhaps this study should give you pause before you decide to start taking an omega-3 supplement. However, I think that you should be more concerned about the excessive consumption of a limited variety of fats than you should be about adding omega-3 PUFAs to the mix.


Time to toss those omega-3 supplements?

According to a new study we should all toss out our omega-3 supplements. This study found that there was no association between omega-3 supplementation and risk of death from cardiac events nor stroke. I’m not convinced enough to stop taking my supplement yet though.

Dietitians, and other health care professionals, have been encouraging omega-3 supplementation for those who do not consume enough (2-3 servings) fatty fish (e.g. salmon, sardines, mackerel) for a number of years. Previous studies have found that people who consume more of these types of fish have decreased risk of death from heart disease and stroke.

The problem lies in the fact that no supplement can compensate for a poor diet. If you’re consuming red meat and high levels of omega-6 (as most North Americans are) then you’re not likely to benefit from taking an omega-3 supplement. In the studies where consumption of fish was increased there was also a corresponding decrease in consumption of meat.

I’m going to continue to take my omega-3 supplement just because I know that I don’t eat enough fish. However, I also eat very little meat. The other reason that I’m going to continue to take my supplement is that there is a possibility that there may be other benefits to omega-3 supplementation beside cardiovascular health. Although current research is inconclusive, there may be benefits to mental well being.

I’m not suggesting that everyone should take an omega-3 supplement. If you can eat more fish, and less meat, you’d be much better off doing that.


Dr. Oz, the fantasy continues

Will Dr. Oz ever cease to be an excellent source of inaccurate nutrition information? I really should thank him for being a source of inspiration for my ranting. However, I would much rather that he stopped playing dietitian and stuck to being a surgeon. “What’s he done this time?” you may be wondering. Along with his buddy Dr. Roizen, he’s published an article with Six Steps to a More Youthful You. It’s not all bad, but some of it is.

1. Visit your dental professional every six months to reduce risk of heart disease and diabetes. Umm… I’m pretty sure that association between heart disease and gum disease was thrown out the window months ago. Was there ever an alleged causal link between gum disease and diabetes? As far as I’m aware, diabetes can increase your risk for gum disease, not the reverse, although gum disease may worsen blood glucose control in those with diabetes. Yes, you should all be seeing your dentist regularly but not for the reasons given by these docs.

2. Take 2 baby aspirin daily. As a dietitian, I probably shouldn’t be commenting on this one. I’m just going to point out that after making this broad suggestion the doctors advise you to check with your doctor before starting this regime. Good idea, talk to your doctor. Don’t just start popping aspirins.

3. Go for three servings of salmon or trout a week. Twice a week is probably sufficient. I’d also like to extend the invitation to all “fatty fish”” anchovies, sardines, and mackerel. Also, Atlantic salmon is a far better source of omega-3 fatty acids than Pacific salmon.

4. Exercise is great. Every little bit helps but the higher the intensity, the greater the benefit. You also don’t need to leave rest days in between resistance training sessions, as long as you’re not working out the same muscle group two days in a row. For more about the health benefits and myths regarding exercise, read Tim Caulfield’s The Cure for Everything.

5. Nuts are good. I don’t really have any issue with this advice. Although I’m inclined to think this “real age” business is bullsh*t.

6. Yes, coffee may be good for you. Yes, I myself wrote about this last week. Please keep in mind that you’re not doing yourself any favours if you’re loading your coffee with cream and sugar.



Easter Eggs

Looking for a way to use the eggs from your decorated Easter egg shells? Why not try making a frittata for bunch? Frittatas are an easy way to use eggs. Just sauté what ever vegetables you like, or have on hand, in a cast iron frying pan. I like to use things like asparagus, mushrooms, and spinach. You might also want to boil a couple of new potatoes. While the veggies are cooking, beat together 6-8 eggs, fresh ground pepper and a dash of basil. Once the potatoes are cooked, slice and distribute evenly in the pan with the veg. Pour the eggs over top and reduce the heat to medium-low. Continue to cook for a few minutes and then sprinkle with feta or goat’s cheese and pop in the oven on the centre rack with the broiler on. Continue to cook until eggs are set and bubbly. Cut into slices and serve with a side salad and toast, or other desired brunch items. Oh, and of course coffee.

Eggs have been much maligned over the years. Primarily due to their cholesterol content. However, dietary cholesterol intake actually has very little impact on blood cholesterol levels and even those with high LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) can safely consume up to two eggs per week. Those of us with healthy cholesterol levels can consume up to one egg a day. Eggs are an excellent source of protein, iron, vitamin D, and vitamin A, among other nutrients. Try to buy free-range organic eggs but don’t bother with the omega-3 eggs. Those hens are fed a diet high in flax seed to boost the omega-3 levels in the eggs. The slight increase in omega-3s in those eggs is offset by the increase in price. You’re better off consuming the ground flax yourself and consuming other better food sources of omega-3s such as fatty fish (e.g. Atlantic salmon, mackerel, and sardines).