Omega-3 Fish Oil and Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate and omega-3 fish oil: Perhaps at first they don’t sound appealing, but both of these represent important foods that mankind has been consuming and benefiting from for thousands of years. At first glance it may be hard to see any similarities between dark chocolate and omega-3, but both are food products that now have decades of research showing tremendous health benefits, and both provide essential elements to build and protect every cell in the body. Chocolate, often called “food of the gods” is made from the cocoa tree bean. Scientific studies have been done primarily on 60 to 70 percent dark chocolate, which contains the highest concentration of polyphenol compounds, which are known to be powerful anti-oxidants. Omega-3 is a type of oil proven to provide essential nutritional support and is most commonly found in fish and seafood and in lesser amounts in flaxseed, walnuts and other green plants and seeds. Both dark chocolate and omega-3 belong to a category of foods referred to as “functional foods”. A food can be described as functional if it can be demonstrated to beneficially affect one or more target functions in the body, beyond adequate nutritional effects, in a way that is relevant to either an improved state of health and well-being and/or reduction of disease.
The concept of functional foods has arisen from our deepening understanding of the biochemistry of nutrition and the realization that many of the “diseases of civilization”, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, for instance, are diet related. As the populations of developed countries age, these diseases are putting an increasing strain on health resources. Long-term changes to our diet could thus produce an immense benefit.
A food can be described as functional if it can be demonstrated to affect beneficially one or more target functions in the body, beyond adequate nutritional effects, in a way that is relevant to either an improved state of health and well-being and/or reduction of disease. Functional foods are concerned with the prevention of disease or the reduction of disease risk, but cannot make any claims as to cures.
Dark chocolate – for which there are now hundreds of scientific studies reporting the health benefits of dark chocolate (generally 60 to 70 percent cocoa). Primarily these reports document heart and blood vessel benefits such as:
- Reduces blood pressure
- Decreases insulin resistance, which is associated with Type II diabetes
A daily dose of concentrated dark chocolate (at least 70 percent cocoa) is believed to offer the most benefits. Even pieces as small as 6.3 grams (30 calories) of dark chocolate have been found to have significant benefits on lowering blood pressure.
Omega-3s are fatty acids. They are found in their highest concentrations in fish, such as mackerel, tuna and anchovies. They are essential for the proper functioning of our bodies, making them a functional food. In fact, every cell in our body has a membrane made in part of omega-3 molecules. Another reason why omega-3 is essential is because our bodies don’t produce it, making it essential that we consume it in our diet in order for our cells and organs to work properly. Omega-3 has also been found to work in our bodies to reduce the level of disease-causing inflammation. Hundreds of human trials support the efficacy of omega-3 essential fatty acids in preventing, mitigating and remedying an incredible range of health conditions.
Studies researching omega-3 have shown the following benefits:
- Helps to maintain cardiovascular function
- Maintains healthy triglyceride levels
- A factor in the maintenance of good health
- Contributes to normal growth and development
- Supports the normal development of the brain, eyes and nerves
The best sources of omega-3, daily dose, purity and taste are also important to ensure you receive adequate amounts. Fish oil should be properly extracted from the fish, and if the oil is stored improperly and exposed to air or sunlight, it can become rancid. Rancid fish oil also produces toxic-free radicals. Consuming these free radials can make you sick to your stomach as well as increase oxidative stress in your body and negate any omega-3 benefits.
Over the last 10 to 15 years, manufacturers of fish oil supplements have begun to realize how sensitive fish oil is to exposure of light, high heat and oxygen, and have developed methods to reduce and eliminate those factors as well as potential toxins such as mercury and lead, which are commonly found in fish. When purchasing a fish oil supplement it is important to look at things such as quality, the actual amounts of EPA and DHA and the purity to ensure that all potentially toxic substances have been removed.
There is every reason to believe that fish oil sales will continue to increase as more people begin to learn about their benefits, and also as the quality of fish oil supplements continues to improve. I generally recommend fish oil to all my patients who are not allergic to seafood. It is generally recommended to consult your healthcare provider prior to starting Omega-3 fish oil supplementation if you have a bleeding or bruising tendency, on blood thinners or platelet-altering drugs or have any condition where you are uncertain of the safety of adding a new dietary supplement.
When Hippocrates, the father of medicine, was asked how could a person remain healthy, he answered: “Let food be your medicine.” He reminds us today that we are what we eat and therefore must make careful choices in order to maintain a healthy and disease-free life.