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Do I need a fish oil supplement? Add to ...

The question

I don't eat a lot of seafood. Should I take a fish-oil supplement?

The answer

Health Canada and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada recommend that we eat two servings of oily fish - such as salmon, trout, sardines, Arctic char, herring or anchovies - twice a week. That's because oily fish are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, special fats linked to protection from heart disease. (They are also low in mercury, a chemical contaminant that can accumulate in the body.) The omega-3 fatty acids in fish are called docosahexanaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

There are no official recommendations regarding how much omega-3 fat one should comsume each day, but most experts agree that a daily intake of 500 milligrams of DHA and EPA (combined) helps to reduce the risk of developing heart disease. If you eat six ounces of salmon each week, you're getting 500 milligrams of omega-3 fats. If you have been diagnosed with heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends you consume 1,000 milligrams of omega-3 fats a day.

If you don't like fish, fish-oil supplements are a good alternative. Fish-oil supplements are made from salmon, anchovies, sardines, herring and mackerel. If you opt for supplements, read labels before you buy. Fish-oil capsules vary in the amount of DHA and EPA they contain. Most capsules provide 300, 500 or 600 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids. Many liquid fish oils contain as much as 1,300 milligrams of DHA and EPA in each teaspoon. Fish liver oil and omega 3-6-9 supplements are typically low in omega-3 fatty acids.

Fish-oil supplements in such doses are well tolerated, although some people experience a fish aftertaste.

Send dietitian Leslie Beck your questions at dietitian@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Follow on Twitter: @lesliebeckrd

 

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