There is a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to health, nutrition and fitness. One thing that is always a hot topic for discussion is the use of supplements. Which supplements are the best, what do they do and which ones can help you to lose weight?
One topic which has been buzzing lately in the health community is the use of fish oil supplements for weight loss. Fish oils and their components – omega-3 fatty acids – certainly have an almost endless amount of proven health benefits. However evidence around fat burning and dieting is a little less clear.
What Are Fish Oils?
Before we can determine what fish oil supplements can do for you, it’s important to understand what they are. Fish oil has become increasingly popular lately, but why?
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are long chain, polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are classed as essential fatty acids because your body cannot make its own, you can only get them through your diet.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids come from alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid, more commonly known as omega-3 and omega-6.
What Do Essential Fatty Acids Do?
Essential fatty acids are responsible for a number of processes in the body. This is why it’s important to consume enough in our daily diets.
Some of the functions EFAs support are:
- Support healthy skin and hair
- Thyroid and adrenal activity
- Development and functioning of the brain and nervous system
- Hormone production
- Breakdown and transport cholesterol
- Healthy cell membrane formation
According to registered dietician Staci Nix in her book Williams’ Basic Nutrition & Diet Therapy “low levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are linked to hair loss, low blood platelets, impaired vision, altered mental states, learning problems, and growth retardation in children.”
What is EPA and DHA
When you eat foods containing polyunsaturated fats, the omega-3 fatty acids are broken down into docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid, also known as DHA and EPA.
Research has shown just how imperative EPA and DHA are for the development of vision and brain function, especially in young children. However, research is still ongoing as to the effects of deficiency in EPA and DHA. A large proportion of the role of these nutrients in our bodies is still unknown.
One study looking at people who had attempted suicide, found they had significantly low levels of EPA in their red blood cells. This suggests that not only could deficiencies in omega-3 fatty acids affect your mental health, but that supplementing someone with high enough levels could also possibly have a part to play in the prevention of suicide. (source)
It is also thought that omega-3s are beneficial to a number of diseases such as:
According to Fish Oil: The Natural Anti-Inflammatory, this is because omega-3s can reduce the inflammatory process that often in turn leads to these chronic diseases.
Do Essential Fatty Acids Aid Weight Loss?
A lot of people think that eating fat makes you fat, which is a misconception. Most people aren’t aware of the difference between healthy fats, like essential fatty acids and unhealthy fats, such as saturated fats.
Unsaturated, healthy fats are not only beneficial to you for all of the reasons we have already established, but also when it comes to losing weight.
Omega-3s Can Help You Burn More Fat
Research has shown that eating the right kind of fat can actually aid fat loss. Especially if you are in a caloric deficit (burning more calories than you are consuming).
One study from the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, showed that women on a very low calorie diet (VLCD) managed to burn more fat by consuming omega-3 fatty acids while fasting. This is because the EFAs are broken down and used as a source of energy.
Omega-3 Can Suppress Your Appetite
Fish oils are able to regulate serotonin, which is responsible for your appetite and mood. One study has shown that a diet rich in omega-3 not only leaves you feeling fuller for longer, but encourages you to eat less overall. (source) This in itself, without calorie restrictive dieting, will encourage you to lose weight.
Omega-3 Minimizes Fat Storage
Insulin has a huge part to play when it comes to weight loss and how your body stores fat. If your cells are sensitive to insulin, they are less likely to store food as fat.
One study has shown that having a diet rich in omega-3s minimizes fat storage by increasing your insulin sensitivity. (source)
How to Get More Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Now we have established not only how important omega-3 fatty acids are, but how they can aid weight loss, I am sure you are wondering how you can get more into your diet!
Well, the most obvious method is through the food you eat. There are a number of food sources for dietary consumption of essential fatty acids.
Some dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:
- English walnuts
- Plant and nut oils
- Fortified foods
Although eating oily fish is the best way for you to get some essential fatty acids into your diet, for a lot of people this is quite a task. Fish can be for many an acquired taste.
There are different levels of “fishiness”, so trying to eat something milder like salmon for instance, is a good way to start. You might even find yourself building up to other varieties over time.
Plus, don’t think about eating fish as just throwing a full herring down on your plate! There are many recipes where you can experiment and even include fish in a way that can mask the fishy taste. This can also be a great way to get some omega-3s into your kids’ diets, as we all know how fussy kids can be.
One of my favorite all time recipes is healthy salmon patties with papaya salad. The reason these are a great option is because, not only do they have an amazing tropical flavor, but you can make them in large batches and keep some in the refrigerator for later in the week. That makes it easier to hit those two servings of omega-3 rich fish weekly.