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The benefits of fish oil

New functional foods enriched with fish oil have been developed at Riddet Institute. Find out the benefits of increasing fish oil in our diets.

Consumers like foods that look and taste good. However, today’s consumers are increasingly looking for functional foods – foods designed to provide specific health benefits.

Why do we need fish oil in our diet?

Fish is a good source of protein, and it’s low in carbohydrates and saturated fats. Fish also has high levels of 2 omega-3 fatty acids – eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Benefits of eating fish

Studies of Inuit diets in the 1970s revealed the benefits of eating fish. The Inuit have low rates of heart disease despite eating a high fat diet including seal meat and oily fish. Since then, a huge number of studies have proven these benefits are associated with omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil.

Initial studies focused on the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in heart health. More recently, they’ve been shown to reduce arthritis, diabetes and asthma. Also, one of the omega-3 fatty acids, DHA, is connected with improved brain development and function.

Balancing omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids

There are 2 types of polyunsaturated fatty acids – omega-3 and omega-6. Omega-3 comes from fish oil, and omega-6 comes from plant sources like soya bean oil and sunflower oil. Both fatty acids are essential in our diet. The balance of these fatty acids is important because they compete for places in our cells. If there’s a higher proportion of omega-3, it will take the place of omega-6 and vice versa. A healthy balance is needed because these fatty acids have opposite effects on the body – omega-3 is anti-inflammatory and omega-6 is inflammatory.

Omega-6 fatty acids are favoured in processed foods because they are more stable. Our increasing consumption of processed foods has led to a higher intake of omega-6 at the expense of omega-3, and we need to address the imbalance.

How can we increase our intake of omega-3?

We can increase our intake of omega-3 by eating more fish. Ideally, to get the recommended daily allowance (RDA), we should eat oily fish such as salmon or tuna 3–4 times a week. The problem is many people don’t eat fish because they can’t buy it locally, can’t afford it or they don’t like it.

Dietary supplements such as fish oil capsules are another source of omega-3. However, they are not easy for young children to swallow.

Adding omega-3 to everyday foods is an easy way to increase our intake. Some omega-3 enriched foods are already available in our supermarkets, but the amount of omega-3 added is too small to benefit health. If larger amounts are added, it causes a fishy taste and smell. At the Riddet Institute, food technologists have overcome this problem and made foods with added fish oil that taste good and appeal to consumers.

Get information sheet: Adding fish oil to food

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