Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Lean with Sardines: How Eating Omega-3 Fatty Acids Helps Weight Loss

It's no secret: I love eating sardines.

Sardines pack a nutritional punch with vitamins D, B6, B12, niacin, selenium, magnesium, phosphorous, zinc, copper, manganese, and protein. I enjoy the taste as well (that has to count for something, right?).

However, one of the greatest benefits they have provided me is helping me lose 30 lbs. and sustain that loss. Yes, there's a nutrient in sardines that makes weight loss efforts more successful...and don't worry, that nutrient is NOT only found in sardines.

Omega-3 fatty acids. The nutrient many people take in fish oil pills - to decrease inflammation - actually increases beta-oxidation (the breakdown of fat to produce energy). Several studies have shown that adding omega-3 fatty acids to a diet increases the amount of weight loss, especially midsection fat.

Researchers from Iceland, Spain, and Ireland noticed this in 2007 with middle-aged, overweight to slightly obese adults [1]. The researchers used several diets that were evenly matched for calories and macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates, and protein). Here's what was different:
  • Group one: no seafood or supplements
  • Group two: ate salmon three times per week (an average of 1.3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day)
  • Group three: took fish oil capsules every day (1.5 grams of omega-3s per day). 

After eight weeks, the men in the salmon and fish oil groups lost an additional two pounds of fat and several centimeters from their waists when compared to group one.

A study with diabetic women had even stronger results [2]. The experimental group took 1.8 grams per day of omega-3 fatty acids in a supplement, while the other women took a placebo.

After eight weeks, the experimental group lost 3.5 lbs. of fat compared to nothing for the women who took the placebo. What's especially intriguing is that, like the men in the previous study, the women lost mostly midsection fat.

As mentioned, thee reason why omega-3 fatty acids boost weight loss is that they increase beta-oxidation. Researchers in France noticed fat breakdown increased 22% when adding 1.8 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day to subjects' diets [3].

If you've followed this blog for a while, you know that I struggled with my weight several years ago. I peaked at 201 lbs. To get to 174 lbs. (what I weighed this morning), I made a series of changes. One of those changes was increasing my omega-3 intake by replacing chicken, conventionally-raised beef, and eggs with salmon, sardines, and grass-fed red meat. Till this day, I continue to eat at least one of those foods every day, and I continue to stay within a five-pound weight range.

Take-Home Messages

When it comes to using omega-3 fatty acids for weight loss, there are two points you should be aware of:
  1. Adding them should not be your entire weight loss plan - if you're interested, make them a part of the plan
  2. You may not think the weight loss numbers in the studies are that large, but I also think the amounts of omega-3s taken weren't that significant. If you took an omega-3 supplement AND ate a fatty piece of fish during most days of the week, you're likely going to consume more than the 1.3 to 1.8 grams per day that the studies used, and you'll likely lose more weight.

This website is a great source for learning the amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in various fish. Fish aren't the only natural sources of omega-3s, but they are typically the most abundant sources.

Of course, you could skip the website and just start eating sardines. I wouldn't stop you.

No comments: