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Eating fish for omega-3 EPA / DHA

The ideal edible fish has fins and scales and swam free in open, unpolluted waters

Fish, particularly oily fish, are our main natural source of omega-3 EPA / DHA (an essential fat vital to our health).

Ideally, we should be able to get EPA / DHA directly by eating oily, ocean or freshwater fish.    But theres a “Catch? ” . .

"Net" amount of Omega-3 content of fish depends on their diet

High EPA /DHA fish include salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, anchovies and trout

WILD fish obtain omega-3 indirectly from the sun

Phytoplankton, plant-like organisms floating near the surface of the water, converts sunlight into food.   Phytoplankton is eaten by zooplankton (animal-like plankton, which is eaten by small fish, which themselves are eaten by bigger fish. Thus, all fish in the wild obtain their sun-derived, electron-rich, Omega-3 fatty acids from eating plankton or other fish.

FARMED fish obtain omega-3 from what producers feed them

fish pellets

Farmed fish now have an efficient protein-producing diet of: ~70% vegetable products and 30% fish oil / fishmeal pellets.

In previous years, sardines and anchovies were a major component of fishmeal, but as this source has been tapped out, producers have turned to using more GMO vegetable proteins, such as soybean and corn, which has reduced the formerly high omega-3 fat content and replaced it with omega-6 fat.

Fishmeal pellets are comprised of dried, ground up smaller fish (in Norway,  most commonly herring, blue whiting, capelin, sprat and anchovy), or unused / recycled fish-byproducts, such as guts, heads tails, or poultry / swine byproducts.  However, due to the smaller fish in fishmeal having been overfished, the industry has been cutting back on the amount of fishmeal used and replacing it with plant food.  The fish-in / fish-out ratio (FIFO) indicates how much wild fish (in the form of fishmeal and fish oil) is needed to produce one kilogram of farmed fish. 3 factors affecting FIFO are (1) How many kilograms of fishmeal / fish oil can be derived from wild fish (the FIFO for fishmeal), (2) how much fishmeal / fish oil is used in the feed, and (3) How oily the wild fish is. From 1990 to 2013, the FIFO ratio for fishmeal went from 4.4 to 1.0 and the FIFO ratio for salmon oil dropped from 7.2 to 1.7.

Eating plant food lowers fish body omega-3 content.    When fish consume plant proteins, such as soybean, corn, canola, sunflower, rapeseed, broad beans and wheat (which also contain carbohydrates and fat and many of which are GMO), the fat content of the fish then corresponds to the plant oils, such as soybean or corn oil, with their lower Omega-3  / higher Omega-6 content.  Another effect of eating more plant-food is the introduction of pesticides, which is now included in the industry’s monitoring list of contaminants.

Farmed salmon usually have synthetic carotenoid pigments added to feed to give flesh a red color.

U.S. federal law concerning labeling of food fish for sale.  Supermarkets are required to label the country of origin of fish, and indicate whether they were farm-raised or harvested in open waters (i.e. wild).

Which fish is richest in Omega-3?

4 ounce cooked portion

> 1,000 milligrams500-1000 milligrams250-500 milligrams<250 milligrams
4 heart3 heart2 heart1 heart
AnchoviesAlaskan PollockFlounder / SoleCod
Herring / KippersBarramundiGrouperHaddock
Mackerel (Atlantic & Pacific)Salmon (Chum, Pink, Sockeye)HalibutMahi Mahi
Sablefish (black cod)SeabassPerchTilapia
Salmon (Atlantic, Chinook, Coho) RockfishTuna (Yellowfin)
Sardines (Atlantic & Pacific)WalleyeSnapper 
Trout Tuna (skipjack / chunk) 
Not recommended:
oysters (Pacific), swordfish
Not recommended:
Tuna (Albacore/White),
Crab, Mussels, Squid, Tilefish
Not recommended:
Catfish, Clams, Mackerel (King)
Not recommended:
Crayfish, Lobsters, Shrimp, Scallops

See appendix for Chart of Omega-3 content of U.S. commercial fish

Some fish are too toxic to eat - "A Fine Kettle of Fish !"

Industrial contaminants in most oceans and lakes have polluted our edible fish sources with such as methylmercury and pcbs.

However, there are still seas that are reasonably unpolluted, namely the Antarctic (Southern) ocean (near the south pole),  the Norwegian sea (off the west coast of Norway). N. Pacific Alaskan salmon waters have some level of contaminants, but much less than lthe seawater pens of farmed fish.

We can narrow down the choices to fish that contain less contaminants:

Don’t eat the clean-up “crew”.  Bottom-dwelling fish / seafood do a great job of cleaning the water.  They contain the toxins they absorbed.   The biblically “clean” fish are not members of the clean-up crew.

Lake trout and farm-raised fish in seawater pens tend to have more contaminants from toxic run-off

The conclusion to this "Fish Tale"?

Eat "something fishy" 2-3 times / week

Eat a variety of only the “bible-clean” wild-caught fish from unpolluted water, favoring OILY, high omega-3 content fish.  

An adult serving size is about 4 – 8oz (depending on bodyweight).

Non-toxic, oily fish include:

Wild-caught salmon, trout (not lake trout), mackerel (Not King mackerel), herring / kIppers, black cod (sablefish).

Salmon is a superfood.

Not only the best choice for obtaining substantial amounts of omega-3 EPA / DHA, salmon also contains every amino acid, vitamins A, D, E, B6, B12, niacin, riboflavin.

Good choices of WILD salmon for omega-3 EPA /DHA

Steam, Bake or Broil.

These are the healthiest cooking methods to protect nutrients. Frying fish can lose much of the original EFA benefits, and can introduce trans fats.

Appendix

Omega-3 /Omega-6 fat in fillets of commercially-available U.S. finned fish

SpeciesnaTotal Fat (g/100 g)Omega-3 (mg/100 g)bOmega-6 (mg/100 g)c
Amberjack, Greater20.91 ± 0.28148 ± 1643 ± 10
Amberjack, Yellowtail22.41 ± 0.14714 ± 7275 ± 2.0
Bass, Striped (F)g56.17 ± 1.70699 ± 184914 ± 179
Bass, Striped (W)g52.42 ± 0.91610 ± 24485 ± 33
Bluefish34.53 ± 3.28896 ± 549159 ± 113
Catfish, Channel (F)117.96 ± 1.68130 ± 241201 ± 262
Cod, Atlantic (F)11.04 ± 0.07265 ± 1522 ± 0.8
Cod, Atlantic (W)80.80 ± 0.25254 ± 4016 ± 5.1
Cod, Lingcod41.30 ± 0.18333 ± 5930 ± 9.5
Cod, Pacific20.52 ± 0.05205 ± 3818 ± 3.5
Cod, Sablefish415.62 ± 3.501571 ± 1016291 ± 52
Croaker, Atlantic54.41 ± 2.73675 ± 382142 ± 61
Flatfish, American Plaice22.47 ± 1.45351 ± 11474 ± 31
Flatfish, English Sole21.24 ± 0.30303 ± 8339 ± 2.8
Flatfish, Grey Sole20.69 ± 0.12158 ± 1545 ± 3.0
Flatfish, Gulf Flounder20.47 ± 0.0974 ± 1434 ± 2.9
Flatfish, Pacific Dover Sole41.03 ± 0.42187 ± 2738 ± 11
Flatfish, Petrale Sole41.31 ± 0.21327 ± 2925 ± 2.1
Flatfish, Rex Sole20.71 ± 0.25213 ± 2533 ± 2.3
Flatfish, Southern Flounder10.38 ± 0.0598 ± 1339 ± 4.1
Flatfish, Summer Flounder50.78 ± 0.31217 ± 5728 ± 11
Flatfish, Winter Flounder11.38 ± 0.06467 ± 9567 ± 6.1
Flatfish, Yellowtail Flounder20.80 ± 0.12280 ± 2925 ± 8.2
Grouper (unspecified)31.26 ± 0.44259 ± 10562 ± 26
Grouper, Gag20.54 ± 0.03129 ± 7.342 ± 5.8
Grouper, Red40.95 ± 0.26118 ± 3958 ± 14
Grouper, Yellowedge10.55 ± 0.02147 ± 4.031 ± 1.3
Haddock40.56 ± 0.07192 ± 2420 ± 3.5
Hake, Silver20.81 ± 0.26224 ± 1812 ± 0.5
Halibut, Alaskan101.63 ± 1.78299 ± 12039 ± 40
Halibut, California20.62 ± 0.19187 ± 6423 ± 1.2
Mackerel, King11.34 ± 0.07259 ± 3774 ± 11
Mackerel, Spanish23.82 ± 0.42633 ± 172131 ± 18
Mahi Mahi110.85 ± 0.25166 ± 5033 ± 6.5
Monkfish90.52 ± 0.06113 ± 3117 ± 4.3
Mullet, Striped22.75 ± 2.07707 ± 652143 ± 91
Pangasius/Swai (F)81.21 ± 0.5126 ± 8.9142 ± 57
Perch, Pacific Ocean23.63 ± 0.47638 ± 39172 ± 21
Perch, White25.78 ± 0.901,025 ± 40458 ± 28
Perch, Yellow20.97 ± 0.31175 ± 1957 ± 6.2
Pollock, Alaskan73.77 ± 5.01249 ± 4411 ± 4.3
Pollock, Atlantic41.10 ± 0.20357 ± 8725 ± 7.6
Pompano, Florida213.87 ± 5.38925 ± 18393 ± 70
Rockfish, Brown21.71 ± 0.15396 ± 6240 ± 2.6
Rockfish, Widow21.52 ± 0.39376 ± 6631 ± 11
Roughy, Orange55.80 ± 2.15200 ± 65190 ± 211
Salmon, Atlantic (F)1116.47 ± 4.022,544 ± 9882,530 ± 1,508
Salmon, Chinook (F)214.18 ± 2.862,179 ± 4331,173 ± 406
Salmon, Chinook (W)57.20 ± 1.751,525 ± 269140 ± 45
Salmon, Coho73.48 ± 1.44894 ± 30866 ± 29
Salmon, Sockeye64.87 ± 1.74934 ± 24898 ± 38
Scup22.35 ± 1.51450 ± 172100 ± 52
Sea Bass, Black31.51 ± 0.71320 ± 6348 ± 11
Sea Bass, Chilean332.65 ± 11.003,011 ± 1,762704 ± 362
Sea Bass, White20.87 ± 0.11195 ± 3724 ± 2.3
Seatrout, Spotted14.54 ± 0.10804 ± 14294 ± 5.9
Shad, American13.16 ± 0.03726 ± 2162 ± 1.4
Shark, Common Thresher10.77 ± 0.02218 ± 3.142 ± 2.4
Shark, Spiny Dogfish26.13 ± 3.331,650 ± 1,001302 ± 138
Skate20.80 ± 0.10197 ± 1330 ± 2.5
Smelt, Rainbow22.17 ± 0.37632 ± 85196 ± 25
Snapper, Red71.26 ± 0.40281 ± 13343 ± 16
Snapper, Vermilion21.04 ± 0.27259 ± 7043 ± 13
Snapper, Yellowtail31.29 ± 0.69288 ± 16054 ± 23
Spot211.65 ± 5.071,294 ± 615320 ± 136
Sturgeon, Green (F)114.78 ± 1.201,428 ± 1001,770 ± 147
Sturgeon, White (F)111.16 ± 0.161,277 ± 221,377 ± 38
Sturgeon, White (W)17.27 ± 0.071,129 ± 38542 ± 15
Swordfish126.82 ± 3.96897 ± 566155 ± 88
Tilapia (F)112.47 ± 0.91125 ± 40370 ± 166
Tilefish, (Mexico)10.51 ± 0.00164 ± 4.024 ± 0.6
Tilefish, (North)10.79 ± 0.17151 ± 6.227 ± 1.9
Trout, Lake25.47 ± 1.961,216 ± 558409 ± 163
Trout, Rainbow (F)95.81 ± 1.841,031 ± 370598 ± 390
Trout, Rainbow (W)14.67 ± 0.41414 ± 17665 ± 37
Tuna, Albacore37.86 ± 4.912,631 ± 1,765228 ± 143
Tuna, Yellowfin60.98 ± 0.46174 ± 12534 ± 15
Wahoo22.11 ± 0.67440 ± 21463 ± 35
Walleye22.05 ± 0.79401 ± 278131 ± 107
Whitefish, Lake64.43 ± 0.621,025 ± 250341 ± 62
Whiting, Pacific21.58 ± 0.23432 ± 5132 ± 4.9
aNumber of composite samples; each composite contains three fish
bTotal of all n-3 fatty acids in fillets, including 18:3n-3, 18:4n-3, 20:3n-3, 20:4n-3, 20:5n-3, 22:5n-3, and 22:6n-3
c
Total of all n-6 fatty acids in fillets, including 18:2n-6, 18:3n-6, 20:2n-6, 20:3n-6, 20:4n-6, 22:2n-6, and 22:4n-6
dTotal of all SFA in fillets, including 12:0, 14:0, 16:0, 18:0, 20:0, 22:0, and 24:0
eTotal of all MUFA in fillets, including 14:1n-5, 16:1n-7, 18:1n-7, 18:1n-9, 20:1n-9, 22:1n-9, and 24:1n-9
fTotal of all PUFA in fillets, including n-3, n-6, 16:2n-4, 16:3n-4, and 18:3n-4
g(F) indicates farmed species and (W) indicates wild species. All unlabeled species are wild

Cladis, D.P., Kleiner, A.C., Freiser, H.H. et al. Lipids (2014) 49: 1005. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11745-014-3932-5 Study Link

Fish-related: