Who said this? “Based on the available data, even though there may be no clear cardiovascular benefit from prescribing omega-3 supplements, aside from helping to reduce triglyceride cholesterol levels, I still say it’s very important for my patients to have a plant-based diet with omega-3 rich fatty fish as part of a heart-healthy Mediterranean-like dietary strategy which holds benefits probably above and beyond individual omega-3 pill supplements.”
In conversations with family and friends, we discuss conflicting information published regularly about nutrition and diet. Some family members think that it is difficult, if not impossible, to figure out what to eat. One day, information claims Omega 3s are essential – and consumers are encouraged to buy Fish Oil and other dietary supplements. Other times, like yesterday’s news about the lack of scientific evidence for Omega 3s in supplement form, some feel compelled to flush supplements down the drain.
What is a thinking and a feeling person to do?
As a graduate student in Nutrition and Clinical Health Psychology (MS candidate, June, 2013) I have examined many aspects of a whole foods, plant based diet. I have learned about essential and non essential nutrients – how they work in the body, how they help protect or promote disease. A quarter was spent examining supplementation for every disease state and learned about the lack of scientific evidence indicating the effectiveness of supplements. One theme is consistent: there is significant evidence in the scientific literature promoting the value of a plant based diet, what is known as a Mediterranean-like dietary strategy. This finding has been repeated in many well designed scientific research studies, and is exciting for the person looking to find an affordable, delicious, simple, healthful strategy to protect and guard against disease.
Approaching diet through a whole foods mostly plants based educational curriculum, teaches us that there is something synergistic and wonderful in the way that whole foods interact to protect health. Powerful antioxidants, useful as tools to protect against inflammation in the body, are contained within plants’ cell walls and are released when eaten. This effect has not been demonstrated with supplements. In fact, scientific study after study fails to demonstrate any beneficial effects in humans when supplements are used as part of a preventive strategy. In some cases, supplementation is shown to cause harm.
The intelligent thinking person will find, if motivated, that the research just doesn’t support taking supplements unless one is very ill and needs nutritional support. What about the feeling person? We are afraid of physical, mental, and emotional decline. One trait we share, regardless of who we are, is the inevitability of death. Some of us will enjoy relatively good health until later in life, then face a rather rapid decline. Others will face a different fate, facing an untimely death through cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or other medical conditions. While we don’t know what causes or cures these diseases, there is a lifestyle component that is shown to be a contributor. Once again, the evidence is clear – adopting a whole foods, mostly plant based approach to eating is protective, as well as supportive of overall health.
The recommendations for the thinking and feeling person are clear: eat real whole foods, mostly plants, eat mindfully, add moderate regular exercise, find a tool to support stress management, and fill your life with supportive friends and family members. Get help (dietary, emotional, medical) when you need it, and don’t spend money on supplements that you don’t need. Eat as if your life depends on it – because, it does!