A FISH STORY: the food, and the oil supplements

The debate over fish, and fish oil, is to me one of the most interesting ones in nutrition in its complexity. We have to ferret out, from the debate, the sophisticated marketing of the fish industry, which capitalized on emerging data 15 years ago that red meat is bad for us. (But fish is good for us, they clamored—and scrambled to provide “data” that this is so.)

Then we must evaluate the sources of fish, in a planet where virtually every waterway is highly contaminated and fish retain mercury at high levels off the coast of every continent. (Canned tuna is one of the most high-mercury foods you can find. I recommend you eliminate it from your diet.)

Then we have to look at farmed fish—even more problematic because they are fed ground-up fish pellets, made of guts and skin and bones. (Also chicken feces and genetically modified corn, soy, and canola oil.) These fish products, then, actually containconcentrated environmental pollutants.

Farmed fish is well documented to be higher in PCBs, dioxins, and other carcinogenic chemicals than wild fish. Most of the fish consumed by humans is now raised in farms. Wild “free range” fish eat plenty of toxins, too—but not concentrated in “fish pellets” like on the farms. Fish in farms are fed chemicals to make them pink rather than their natural grey color, are low in Omega 3’s due to their lack of a natural diet, and are given antibiotics at a higher rate than any other livestock!

And we have to look at the nonsense about fish oil. Does it really prevent heart disease? Everyone accepted this quickly as “settled science” mostly because a few data points were being repeated by so many doctors and so many supplement companies. But now we have 20 years of data and those who look at longitudinal trends know that fish oil has saved us from nothing.

What if a fish died and was floating in the water? Would you eat that fish’s flesh, or squeeze oil from it to eat, even 12 hours later? Of course you wouldn’t. It would be rancid. So says Dr. Brian Clement, N.M.D. and PhD, with whom I spoke in Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale. What if it sat for days, and then you deodorized and purified it, highly refined it, put it in gelatin capsules, and put it into distribution so it sat another several months before you ate it?

You’ve noticed that you burp up rancid fish oil taste for hours after you take yours? Rancid oils are carcinogens. The pharmaceutical companies that produce the vast majority of the fish-oil pills will pacify you by saying, “But we deodorize the oil.” Ah, so they use petroleum products, like coal tar, to mask the rancidity. I ask again, do you want to refine a fish-oil product and cover up the obvious signs that it is putrefied and not appropriate as food?

This is not an effective way to get Omega 3 fatty acids in your diet. Especially when there are perfect plant-food sources that don’t cause you to burp up rancid nasty.

Flax, chia, and hemp seeds are fabulous sources of Omega 3 fatty acids. I recommend having all three on hand. I love sprouted flaxseed to add to green smoothies. (I know of 28 anti-cancer compounds in flax. And this product is sprouted, which increases not only fiber, but also explodes vitamin and mineral content. Flax has 7x more lignans than the next-highest source—these compounds are highly breast-cancer protective.)

You get no fiber in your rancid fish oil caps. I really don’t think it’s a good source for anyone, of Omega 3’s. Save your money and eat some good whole foods instead:  greens have Omega 3’s in small but highly bio-available amounts.

And chia, flax, and hemp are perfect green smoothie ingredients, but I eat them in lots of ways:  roll raw cookies in them or put them in baked products. I love chia drinks from the health food store (one variety of Synergy kombucha is full of it). A spoonful of chia seed at night, chewed well and swallowed, and chased with a big glass of water, will fill up your stomach and get rid of your hunger.


Need motivation to eat less meat and more plants? . . . part 11 of 12

Today, more info on world hunger and why you’re contributing to overconsumption of resources  eating high on the food chain:


Number of people whose food energy needs can be met by the food produced on 2.5 acres of land, if the land is producing . . .


Cabbage                     23 people

Potatoes                      22 people

Rice                               19 people

Corn                             17 people

Wheat                         15 people

Chicken                         2 people

Milk                                 2 people

Eggs                                  1 person

Beef                               1 person


Grain needed to adequately feed every person on the planet who dies of hunger annually: 12 million tons


Amount Americans would have to reduce their beef consumption to save 12 million tons of grain: 10 percent


Amount of fish caught per person, worldwide, sold for human consumption (1996): 16 kg

Amount of marine life that was hauled up with the fish and discarded, per person (1996): 200 kg


Amount of world’s fish catch fed to livestock: 50%, more than the combined weight of the U.S. human population


Newsweek quote: “The amount of water that goes into a 1,000 pound steer would float a (Naval) destroyer.”

Need motivation to eat less meat and more plants? . . . part 4 of 12

Do certain diets prevent cancer?  Today, good stats on health implications  of eating meat:


Risk of colon cancer for women who eat red meat daily, versus those who eat it less than once a month: 250 percent greater


Risk of colon cancer for people who eat red meat once a week compared to those who abstain: 38 percent greater


Risk of colon cancer for people who eat poultry once a week compared to those who abstain: 55 percent greater


Risk of colon cancer for people who eat poultry four times a week compared to those who abstain: 200-300 percent greater


Risk of colon cancer for people who eat beans, peas, or lentils at least twice a week compared to people who avoid these foods: 50 percent lower


Impact on risk of lung cancer for people who frequently eat green, orange, and yellow vegetables: 20-60 percent reduction


Impact on risk of lung cancer among people who consume a lot of apples, bananas, and grapes: 40 percent reduction


Rate of lung cancer in British vegetarian men compared to the general British population: 27 percent


Rate of lung cancer in German vegetarian men compared to the general German population: 8 percent


Dr. Diane Courtney is head of EPA’s Toxic Effect Branch and told Congress, “Dioxin is by far the most toxic chemical known to mankind.”   The EPA says that up to 95 percent of human dioxin exposure comes from red meat, fish, and dairy products.


The American Institute for Cancer Research, and the World Cancer Research Fund, analyzed more than 4,500 studies and said that 60 to 70 percent of all cancers can be prevented by staying physically active, not smoking, and adhering to the following diet:  “Choose predominantly plant based diets rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits, legumes, and minimally processed starchy staple foods.”


Tell me: you gonna have a slab of steak for dinner tonight?   Or, will you choose a diet that will help you prevent disease?    

Fish, and taking fish-oil pills

For you fish eaters, the U.S. FDA stated in 2001 that fish with the highest mercury levels are tilefish, swordfish, mackerel, shark, white snapper, and tuna.   The lowest levels are found in salmon, flounder, sole, tilapia, and trout (though these fish are high in other toxins, in some waters).

If you’re eating fish-oil pills hoping to avoid heart disease, consider that you might be getting cancer-causing toxins in the bargain.   For instance, highly toxic PCBs have been found in Great Lakes fish.   Family Practice News reported in 1989 that you’d have to drink water from the Great Lakes for 100 years to get the same amount of PCBs in one serving of trout or salmon from those waters.   Similar findings link hydrocarbon pollution to fish in Puget Sound, Boston Harbor, and more.   New Orleans has extraordinarily high rates of cancer, where residents eat fish and shellfish daily.  

Farmed fish were thought to be safer, but recent data suggests other reasons to be concerned about the way fish bred in farms absorb toxins as well.

If you must eat fish, avoid those high in mercury.   A less risky way to obtain Omega fats is to eat flaxseed or flax oil, as well as a diet rich in a variety of greens and seeds/nuts.

fish oil vs flax oil

Fish oil vs flax oil: which is better?   Fish oils are rich in Essential Fatty Acids, and most people  have thought for the past 10+ years that they are the best source.   This is because  research on EFAs focused on the fish oils for many years.   A very recent study said those taking isolated fish-oil supplements did not have better cardiovascular markers, contrary to popular belief.   Harvard-educated M.D. Donald Rudin says that his own research yielded better results with flaxseed oil.

Fish oil is problematic for a few reasons.   First, contaminants  in water sources mean a lot of fish  contain mercury or other heavy metals, or toxins called lipid peroxides.   Second, some experts say fish oil is  indigestible in the gut (that’s why you burp it up for hours after taking it).   Third,  heat destroys  the EFA alpha linolenic acid in cooking, which is something to consider if you’re getting your EFAs from eating fish.   Fourth, fish oil is  about five times more  expensive, ounce for ounce, than  flax oil.    (And probably about 20 times more expensive than whole flaxseed!)

Fish oil advocates claim that you get EPA and DHA (two fatty acids) from animal sources, whereas flax is low in DHA.   True, but on the other hand, the human body needs very little DHA, as it is stored in the cells and does not need to be replaced often.

Further,  flax is a whole plant food with lots of fiber and many other virtues, including anti-inflammatory, tumor-inhibiting, and mood- and hormone-regulating compounds.   In fact, I believe flaxseed to be potentially the most nutritious food on the planet.   The fish oil vs flax oil debate isn’t over, but  the more I read  on newer research, the more firmly convinced I become that flax will win in the end.