If you have been in the food distribution business a long time, you know that the industry has changed. Your end consumers have access to considerably more amounts of information than ever before. This is a good thing: an educated consumer is good for business. This information can bring its own problems, though: it can increase demand for a product that is possibly faddish or even outright unhealthy if it has gotten enough buzz. It is up to you to know which foods are sincerely good and deserve the hype versus what is merely popular.
One group of healthy fats in particular stands out to those of us in the seafood industry – omega-3s. Everyone has heard of omega-3s, but the consumer perception of them has been altered by the cacophony of advertisements, articles, labels, and various other jargon from food companies and health experts. Many people believe omega-3s can cure all their illnesses, while others perceive them as a fad. Neither of these extremes are true.
Omega-3s can do wonderful things for the human body if consumed in the right amounts from the right sources. Fish have been hailed time and again as one of the best natural food sources. Your clients care about their health and you care about your clients – here is the information you need to convince them that you are providing them with a fresh, healthy and sustainable source of omega-3s in seafood.
Good for us AND good for the oceans
As soon as we open up the door for seafood as our source of omega-3s, there is a world of confusion waiting to greet us. We know omega-3s are good for our hearts and our overall health, but we need to steer clear of fish that are laden with contaminants and we don’t want to support unsustainable fisheries.
Contaminants such as mercury and PCBs may accumulate in larger predatory fishes. We want to make certain that we limit our consumption of these fishes – especially pregnant women. Species such as albacore tuna are recommended by the American Heart Association as a good source for omega-3s, but their tissues can contain high levels of mercury that can be harmful to humans if too much is consumed.
Sustainability is something everyone should consider when choosing seafood options. Sustainable fisheries have abundant populations, are well-managed, and there is little to no damage to the environment. There are many fisheries that have been overfished, or create large amounts of bycatch (accidental catch) or destroy sensitive habitats. There are some farmed species that can pollute and some that may actually improve the environment. With hundreds of options available to purchase fish and shellfish, it can be daunting to choose the right ones. Luckily we there are resources available to us that allow us to find the right seafood choices.
Use pocket guides – There are several easy-to-use guides provided by institutions that research fish populations and fishing methods. The Environmental Defense Fund and the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch both provide pocket guides for consumers to use when they are choosing their seafood options for both regular fish and sushi. Seafood Watch even offers an app for iPhone and Android systems, providing instant updates.
Choose a distributor you trust – Pucci Foods is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) so you can trust they are committed to providing their customers with sustainable seafood options.
Not just a fad
There are over 9,900 monthly searches on Google for “omega-3 fatty acids” and 8,100 for “omega-3 foods”. Google Trends shows us that interest in omega-3 health benefits has held steady over the last six years. A tremendous amount of research has told us for years about the benefits of regularly consuming omega-3s. They’ve been shown to reduce risk for cardiovascular disease, inflammation, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, depression, asthma. They can increase energy level, ability to concentrate and overall cognitive functions. More recent studies are telling us that omega-3s can even help with cancer and other serious conditions. A study of over 900,000 women found that those women who had consumed the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids from fish were 14 percent less likely to have breast cancer. Researchers from the University of California Los Angeles found that fish oil supplements may reduce reduce prostate cancer aggression, the most common cancer among American men. The Karolinska Institutet in Stockhold found that omega-3s may even potentially be a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. With such a steady interest from consumers and advancing research in the medical field, it is safe to say that omega-3 fatty acids will be on the shopping list for many years to come.
EPA, DHA, ALA oh my!
In order to understand omega-3s, we need to get the lowdown on the basic chemistry. There are several different types of these fatty acids with the three main forms being eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Have we dusted the cobwebs off the chemistry sector of our brains yet? All three forms are considered polyunsaturated fats, as opposed to saturated fats found in butter and lard. They are “essential” because they play an important role in several physiological functions and our bodies are unable to make them on their own. EPA and DHA are considered long-chain forms of omega-3 and are found in seafood and algae. ALA, the short-chain form, is found in plant sources like walnuts, flax seeds, soybeans, and some leafy greens. When we consume ALA, the body needs to convert it into EPA and DHA in order to use it – but this conversion doesn’t happen very rapidly. Lucky for us, you can directly devour EPA and DHA by eating certain foods, skipping a step in the metabolic process. Great sources included cold-water fish such as salmon, trout, tuna, halibut, cod, mackerel, sardines and herring. Invertebrates like oysters and mussels are a good bet, and certain types of algae (seaweed) also contain DHA.
Grocery stores are laden with enriched products boasting loud labels of their omega-3 content – such as tortillas, orange juice, peanut butter and margarine. These omega-3s were added artificially and are often in the ALA form, of which our bodies only process 5% of the total amount of ALA ingested. It is best to consume omega-3s directly in the EPA and DHA forms. Consumers can do this by eating certain foods and entirely skipping a step in the in the metabolic process. Great sources included cold-water fish such as salmon, trout, tuna, halibut, cod, mackerel, sardines and herring. Invertebrates like oysters and mussels are a good bet, and certain types of algae (seaweed) also contain DHA.
There are many different options available for us to get our fill of omega-3 fatty acids, but seafood by far and large contains the greatest amounts of the healthiest types that our bodies can absorb. By choosing to buy from Pucci Foods, you are providing your clients with the freshest seafood from a distributor that you know cares about the environment. Enjoy omega-3 fatty acids responsibly!