I’ve been wanting to clarify some information regarding Omega-3 fatty acids for people with diabetes and for pregnant women, since I have had numerous people scold me while I’ve been pregnant telling me I shouldn’t be eating fish. Most of these individuals are not well informed, to no fault of their own. Omega-3 fatty acids are the ‘good unsaturated fats’ found in an array of foods, not just fish, and they are SO important for so many reasons, particularly for people with diabetes and pregnant women.
When it comes to the common concern of mercury levels in fish, it is important to keep a few key things in mind: Fish that are highest in mercury include swordfish, king mackerel, shark and tilefish. Oooh, how much of those fishy friends have you consumed in the last week? Probably not much! And, you would need to consume more than 2-3 servings of those fish to really do some damage. On the other hand, the fish that are on the lower end of the scale (pun intended) in mercury are more of our common favorites; salmon, halibut, light canned tuna, shrimp and clams. Fish are also not only a great source of Omega-3’s but are an excellent source of lean protein and high-quality minerals, all of which are great for people with diabetes who want a lean protein on their plate to avoided saturated fats.
It is important to note, that the body cannot make Omega-3 fatty acids, and that is why it is vitally important that we get it from healthy food sources or from a supplement. The American Heart Association recommends we eat lower mercury fish 2x/week to equal the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of 500 mg of DHA/EPA. Confused by the abbreviations? Omega-3’s consist of DHA, EPA and ALA. DHA can be found in the lower-mercury fish I mentioned above, and are most important for brain and vision development. EPA has been found to help with mood disorders and reducing depression. While ALA, more commonly consumed and found in foods such as canola oil, flax, walnuts, brussel sprouts, spinach, is linked to the all-important heart health that we strive for. You can also find Omega-3’s present in fortified foods these days such as eggs, peanut butter and milk.
The major benefits of consuming Omega-3’s are as follows:
- Memory: in a study (referenced in Today’s Dietitian Jan. 2012) it was shown that people who consumed low levels of Omega-3 scored lower on visual, memory and problem solving tests.
- Heart Health: Omega-3’s can help to reduce triglycerides and reduce risk of blood clots (***if you are already taking blood thinners, talk to your doctor first, as taking and Omega 3 with it could be dangerous!)
- Mood disorders: In recent years, numerous studies have shown links between consumption of Omega-3’s and reduced incidence of depression, both in the general population as well as in pregnant and post-partum women.
For people with diabetes: A diet sufficient in Omega-3’s can lend a helping hand in all the things we try to avoid (complications), by keeping our hearts healthy, our moods lifted and replacing high-fat items on our dinner plates like slabs of red meat with a nice healthy and lean protein (or healthy vegetable like brussels sprouts or spinach). This in turn helps us feel fuller, build lean muscle mass and hopefully help us from consuming excess carbohydrates. All in all, consuming Omega-3’s as a meal can do nothing but good for a person with diabetes!
For pregnant women: Always proceed with caution, as too much of a good thing is just that…too much. You will not create a baby Einstein in your belly by scarfing down loads of brainy fish food. Keeping in mind the above food sources, just stay away from the high mercury fish and consume the recommended amounts of lower mercury fish and not any more than that. The American Dietetic Association in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency recommends pregnant women consume at least 1-2 servings of low mercury fish per week (Today’s Dietitian magazine 2011), or no more than 8-12 oz per week. This is about 2 pieces of salmon (try to get wild caught, not farm raised, whenever you can, for the healthiest version of salmon).
Depression and pregnancy is somewhat of a stigma and unfortunately not talked about enough. People with diabetes can be (not always) at higher risk if you have a predisposition for depression and if years of erratic blood sugar control have effected your mental well-being. 10-15% of pregnant women experience depression and 1 in 5 new moms have post partum depression. Many of these cases go untreated, which can lead to the child being detached from its mother and behavioral issues. Besides the vital importance of Omega-3’s contributing to fetal brain and eye developmental, research is showing that Omega-3’s are just as important in decreasing depression, specifically in the third trimester and post-delivery (Omega-3’s will get to the baby through your breast milk). These aren’t just vital nutrients for mom, one study even shows pregnant women who take Omega-3’s in the later half of pregnancy can substantially reduce a child’s risk of having asthma, and can also result in the child demonstrating higher memory function in school (American Journal of clinical nutrition July 2008). Other studies show that higher levels of Omega-3’s may lower the incidence and duration of cold and flu symptoms in infants (Pediatrics). There are some inconclusive studies that do show a link between reduced incidence of preeclampsia and preterm births as well.
With all of this information, and the ability to take an Omega-3 supplement if you really hate fish, why wouldn’t you consider adding this vital nutrient as part of your daily regimen? As always, ask your doctor.
***Keep in mind, PLEASE check with your doctor or dietitian before adding a supplement of Omega-3’s, as mentioned above, sometimes you can actually get too much of one nutrient, and for people with diabetes on other medications may need to understand how these things interact with each other. For pregnant women, please keep in mind that you should not take a fish liver oil supplement which contains high levels of fat soluble vitamins A and D which can be dangerous to pregnant women if they consume too much.