Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Krill oil vs fish oil

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I get a lot of questions about omega-3 supplements. Generally these are from fish oil. However, there’s been more interest in the less common krill oil expressed recently.

Krill are tiny little crustaceans. Fish obtain their omega-3s from eating plankton, as do krill. I’d heard that krill oil may be a superior source of omega-3s in comparison to traditional fish oil.

Krill oil actually contains less EPA and DHA (the essential omega-3 fatty acids we aim to obtain from supplements) than fish oils. 1, 000 mg of krill oil generally contains 230-300 mg of omega-3s; 140-160 mg EPA, and 80-90 mg DHA. Compare that to a 1, 000 mg fish oil supplement: 500 mg EPA and 333 mg DHA. However, amounts tend to vary widely between brands and varieties and it’s important to ensure you’re looking at the dose you’ll be taking (many will advise you to take multiple capsules each day which is unnecessary). Advocates for krill oil will tell you that the omega-3s in it are better absorbed than the omega-3s in fish oil. However, there’s not yet any evidence to support this (1).

There may be other benefits to krill oil, such as antioxidant properties. However, as with the previous claim, there is insufficient research to make any claims at this time (2).

One benefit of krill oil that is likely true is that it won’t give you the “fishy burps” that other omega-3 supplements may. If this is a concern to you it’s still avoidable when taking fish oil supplements. Look for supplements that have “enteric coating”. This means that they’ll survive your stomach acid intact and dissolve in your intestine so that they won’t be able to come back to haunt you. You should also take your supplement before your meal, or on an empty stomach, to decrease the transit time.

I had thought that fish oil supplements might be at greater risk of mercury contamination as the fish are considerably larger than the krill. A study showed that fish oil supplements range from no contamination to negligible contamination, rendering that an useless theory.

Other differences between krill oil and fish oil supplements: krill oil tends to be pricier. Also, as krill are crustaceans, krill oil supplements are not safe for sufferers of shellfish allergies.

Bottom line: krill oil may be equally beneficial to fish oil as an omega-3 supplement. It may even have additional benefits. However, the research is not there to support any additional claims. You may want to try krill oil if you’re willing to take a gamble on those additional benefits and if you’re not budget conscious. If you’d rather save your pennies, stick with a high-quality fish oil supplement. And, as always, check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any supplements, especially if you’re taking any other kind of medication.


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Flax seed, the new egg

I don’t know about you but I often find myself about to make a recipe, usually cookies or muffins only to discover I don’t have any eggs. Fortunately, from my brief foray into veganism I’ve found a great substitute. You just have to make sure that you always have flax meal (aka ground flax seed) on hand.

To make the equivalent of one egg using flax meal, mix one tablespoon of flax with three tablespoons of warm water. Leave to form a gel for a few minutes. Use in recipe as you would use actual eggs. To avoid adding colour to your recipe you may want to use golden flax rather than brown flax.

Flax has a high polyunsaturated oil content which means that it can go rancid with exposure to light or heat. Once you’ve opened your flax you should store it in the fridge or freezer to keep it fresh for longer. It’s also true what you’ve heard about whole flax seeds; they’ll go right through you. If you want to obtain the nutritional benefits of flax you should always use milled flax.

Two tablespoons of milled flax contains about 65 calories, 6 grams of fat (3.5 g omega-3, 1.0 g omega-6, and 1 g monounsaturated), 4 g of fibre, and 3 g of protein. While not a major source of the omega-3 fatty acids that we need the most (i.e. DHA and EPA) we can convert some of the ALA (the type of fatty acid predominant in flax) into EPA and DHA. Our ability to convert ALA is not hugely efficient though so if you are consuming a vegan, or strict vegetarian diet, you should consider adding other sources of these essential fatty acids (such as sea vegetables and micro-algae) to your diet.

 


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Getting to the heart of hemp seeds

I recently received a request to write a post on hemp seed nutrition. Not knowing much about hemp seeds myself I’ve had to do a little bit of research. Hemp seeds, or hemp hearts, contain about 170 calories per 3 tablespoons. That same serving contains 13 grams of fat (1.5 g saturated, 8 g omega-6, and 2.5 g omega-3, 1.5 monounsaturated), 3 g fibre, 10 g of protein, and 30% of your daily iron requirement.

As we tend to consume plenty of omega-6 fatty acids in our Western diets but not enough omega-3s, I’m not entirely convinced that hemp seeds are the way to go if you’re looking for a vegan source of omega-3s. It seems that hemp seeds contain more SDA (an omega-3 fatty acid) but less ALA (an omega-3 fatty acid that we convert a percentage of into the essential omega-3 fatty acids: EPA and DHA). I tried to find  a good study to support (or refute) the ingestion of SDAs. However, the only studies I could find were very small and were supported by Monsanto thus rendering them unworthy of mention here. I found a few comparisons of hemp seeds, flax seeds, and chia seeds but they were all posted by a producer of one of those products. Again, rendering them unworthy of mention here.

With very little decent research on hemp seeds and nutrition I think that the best we can go by is the nutrition facts panel in combination with our personal preferences and budgets. There is certainly nothing in the nutrient panel that would suggest not consuming hemp seeds. Indeed, the protein, fibre, and iron content are all pretty good even if we’re not sure of their provision of omega-3s. However, at $8.99 for a 227 gram bag they’re not exactly cheap. Also, it’s my understanding that they’re not to everyone’s taste. While there’s nothing wrong with consuming hemp seeds, there’s also not enough evidence to support my advising anyone to consume them.