How Omega-3s Help Weight Loss
No other nutrient has been the subject of as much unscientific advice as fats. First came the low-fat diet craze. Dieters got fatter. Then came the hydrogenated fake fat fiasco, approved by the Food and Drug Administration and even endorsed by heart specialists (“eat margarine, not butter”). People got fatter-and sicker-before this factory-made fat was exposed for the sticky, sickie fat it is. Finally came the omega-3 oils, the most scientifically studied, healthiest oil on the planet. Yet, as of this writing, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) still has not issued an official Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for omega-3s. Omega-3s should be endorsed whole-heartedly. One of the greatest benefits this super nutrient provides is that omega-3s help weight loss.
What Fats Make You Fat?
After one of my “oil change” lectures in China, the discussion turned to the topic of obesity in the United States. Besides “portion distortion” (e.g., restaurant portions are large), a main contributor to the fattening of Americans is the shift in our diets to more fake factory food and less real food. Scientists who study the obesity epidemic have noticed that over the past thirty years weight and waist lines have increased together with the increase in factory-processed oils in the U.S. diet. The increase in other packaged factory foods has clearly contributed to the rise in the obesity rate. Researchers who study obesity throughout the world have noted that people in cultures where diets are high in omega-3 EPA/DHA, such as in parts of Asia, tend not only to be healthier but leaner. Yet when they immigrate to the United States and start to eat fewer omega-3 oils and more factory processed omega-6 oils, they get fatter.
Omega-3s help weight loss because they increase fat burning, decrease excess fat storage, improve satiety (curb overeating), and decrease the complications of obesity, such as inflammation and the metabolic syndrome.
Weight control doctors have concluded that eating more omega-3s help weight loss:
- When coastal dwellers, whose diet is naturally higher in seafood, move inland and live off the land instead of the sea, they tend to lose their leanness.
- People with low blood levels of omega-3 EPA/DHA tend to have a greater risk of the metabolic syndrome: high body mass index, large waist size, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high blood cholesterol and triglycerides.
- Some weight loss programs that combine fish oil with exercise reduce more body fat.
- Studies analyzing children’s diets revealed that those with the highest body mass index had the highest omega-6 and the lowest omega-3 blood levels.
Seafood is More Filling, Less Fattening
Seafood is a high-satiety food. One of the reasons that omega-3s help weight loss, and are appropriately called a lean fat, is that they make you feel full with less food. Because seafood is so nutrient-dense (packed with lots of nutrition per calorie), you are satisfied with fewer calories.
Try this feel-better-after-eating experiment to prove that omega-3s help weight loss. First, eat a 6-ounce salmon fillet. Notice how your gut feels shortly after the meal and two or three hours later. If your gut could talk, it would say, “I feel good, as a gut should, and I’m so satisfied, not uncomfortably full nor hungry.” On another day eat the same number of calories in a high-carbohydrate meal, say, pasta. Notice how your gut feels. You will probably feel hungrier sooner, even though you ate the same number of calories as in your seafood meal.
Why these different gut feelings? Unlike seafood, carbohydrates have a low satiety factor. When you’re less satisfied or even hungry, you tend to crave and eat more carbs and get fatter. The next day eat a 6-ounce sirloin steak, and listen to your gut saying, “I don’t feel good, as a gut should.” You may feel too full too fast, constipated, and lethargic as the blood reluctantly diverts from brain to gut to help process the overload. You just experienced a case of postprandial lipemia (PPL), or high blood levels of sticky fats after a meal.
In a 2008 study, scientists discovered that people who ate a diet containing more than 1300 mg of omega-3s per day (about 4 ounces of oily fish) felt more comfortably full sooner compared with people who ate low omega-3 meals (less than 260 mg per day). The researchers concluded that a diet with a high level of omega-3 fats should be standard in a successful weight loss program. By boosting postprandial satiety, or after-meal fullness, this is another way omega-3s help weight loss. This could explain why people in cultures that eat a seafood-rich diet, such as the Japanese; tend to be leaner and healthier than those who eat less seafood and more carbohydrates.
To see which seafood is safest, check out these downloadable guides on safe seafood on this page.