Food & Fitness After 50: Dietary Supplement Q&A

frequently-asked-questions

In June of this year I developed a webinar for Today’s Dietitian titled, “Dietary Supplement Use in Older Adults: Help, Hype, or Hope?” (Click here to access the webinar.) The webinar ended with a robust Q&A. Time ran out before we could get to all of the questions and some of them were tough to answer. In my teaching days I told students to seek out experts when they didn’t know the answer to a question, so I turned to an expert in dietary supplements to help me. Dr. Anthony Thomas is the Director of Scientific Affairs for Jarrow Formulas and he jumped in to answer your questions. I’ve tapped Dr. Thomas in the past when you asked about probiotic supplements…click here for a link to that post.

Question: The number 1 question involved supplement ingredients. Many people believe that all supplement ingredients are manufactured in China and they expressed concerns over quality issues with Chinese ingredients.

“Ingredients for use in dietary supplement manufacturing are sourced from all over the world, including China,” explains Dr. Thomas. “Quality ingredients are quality ingredients regardless of their country of origin and in fact a number of companies headquartered in other countries have manufacturing set up in the U.S., too.”

thOne suggestion that I routine make when asked about supplements is to look for a quality brand, like Jarrow Formulas (disclosure, I have no connection to Jarrow Formulas, but I do use some of their products because I recognize quality supplements.). A quality brand often uses third-party verification or endorsement. That means that a brand contracts with a third-party certifying agency to test their products. One of the most well-known is USP which stands for United States Pharmacopia. When you see the USP symbol on a supplement it tells you that the supplement:

  • Contains what the ingredient label says it contains and, in the amount, listed
  • Doesn’t contain contaminants
  • Will dissolve or break down in the body and get absorbed into the blood stream in a specific time frame
  • Has been made with good manufacturing processes (GMPs) as outlined by the Food & Drug Administration.

NSF-Certified-for-sport-blue-and-orange-196x300Another well-known third-party entity that evaluates supplements is NSF. The NSF certification also helps consumers know they are getting a quality supplement.  When I worked with athletes at the university, we looked for NSF certified supplements because they test supplements to ensure that they do not contain substances banned by their sport governing body.

Question: What is the difference between a supplement called a nutraceutical vs. nootropic?

Dr. Thomas defines it this way, “a supplement called a nutraceutical is more-or-less a fancy term (not a legal term) for dietary components or dietary supplement ingredients with purported health benefits beyond nutritive value.  Nootropics are a subset of ingredients that positively influence cognitive function(s).”

Question: Is there a B12 supplement source for vegans? What form of B12 is best absorbed in older adults?

Vitamin-B12“All forms of B12 used in dietary supplements are suitable for vegans since they are synthesized chemically. Look for one that says suitable for vegans because some capsules are made with gelatin. Jarrow Formulas makes a chewable form that is appropriate for vegans,” says Dr. Thomas. “Thus, the concern about vitamin B12 deficiency in vegans is easily overcome.”

As for the “best” form of B12, Dr. Thomas explains, “despite the marketing hype, there is not good evidence of differences in absorption between different forms of the vitamin. There is limited evidence suggests that methyl-B12 may be better retained by the body and reduced elimination in the urine compared to cyanocobalamin.  Methyl-B12 seems to be the preferred form by consumers, but that is likely due in large part to marketing rather than research demonstrated superiority. Some suggest that methyl-B12 is not suitable for all the body’s needs as if it cannot be converted to right form, but this is incorrect.” The bottom line is that some marketing might make it appear that there is a “best” form but all forms are used by the body.

 Question: How do you know if supplements of omega 3s are not rancid?

Fish-Oil“Unfortunately, smell is not always indicative of oxidative degradation.  If the product is stored away from heat and light exposure, it should be fine, although I often just keep my bottles in the fridge,” says Dr. Thomas. “Soft gels are usually formulated with antioxidant ingredients to protect against oxidation.”  As with other supplements, buy supplements from a reputable brand with a long-standing reputation of quality. That is my recommendation, as well as Dr. Thomas’ recommendation. He adds, “of course this recommendation may seem self-serving given the company I work for.  However, there is increasingly more direct consumer brands primarily available online as they can contract the manufacturing of the supplement and just put their label on the product but it may or may not have all the other quality control measures in place to ensure safety, potency, and quality.  We see more problems with products from such companies, not all or most, and it is often guilt by association for the entire industry. In fact, Jarrow L. Rogovin, the man who started Jarrow Formulas in 1977, relied on contract manufacturers but after so many issues over the years, he eventually invested in the development of our own manufacturing nearly 20 years ago.

Thanks to Dr. Thomas for helping me answer your questions on dietary supplements. Keep the questions coming!

Dr. Christine Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian nutritionist and a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Along with Dr. Bob Murray, she is the author of Food & Fitness After 50.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved

 

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Fish Oil Supplements

We’ve been exploring the benefits of seafood in the diet (for the previous posts click here and here). Today let’s answer your questions on fish oil supplements.

As a quick reminder, health organizations like the American Heart Association recommend at least 2 servings (a serving is equal to 3.5-ounces) of fatty fish twice each week to get the recommended 250-500 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids of EPA and DHA (sometimes referred to simply as fish oils). But there is nothing simple about sorting through the many fish oil supplements on the market for those who don’t eat enough fatty fish. Add to that, trying to wade through the sea of health claims and understanding the label is even trickier. I checked in with Senya Joerss, Technical Manager for Trident Seafoods Corporation to ask about fish oil and omega-3 supplements.

While I don’t want this to turn into an organic chemistry lesson, this infographic can help explain the different types of omega-3-fats. While we tend to lump them together under the umbrella of omega-3s, what we are really after are the EPA and DHA, the two omega-3s that have been extensively studied to promote heart, brain, and eye health.

 

ALA-EPA-DHA-infographic

That leads to the first question on the various formulations on the market.

Question: Is salmon oil a better choice for a supplement than other omega-3s on the market?

Salmon oil contains a good amount of omega-3s but some fish contain more (sardines and mackerel for example). But, the omega-3 content of fish is dependent on what the fish eat. Salmon is one of the fattier fishes and therefore salmon oil is a good choice for a supplement due to its omega-3 content. As a consumer, that means you can take fewer capsules. Also, salmon oil is a natural form of the fats meaning better absorption, so it gets in to the blood stream more readily. Joerss responded this way, “Trident’s product, Pure Alaska Omega Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil delivers the same whole fat omega nutrition as eating two portions of cooked wild salmon per week; it’s the closest supplement option when you cannot eat fish for dinner.” And while the health benefits of EPA and DHA are what we are after, Joerss states that “fatty fish, like salmon, contain many other fatty acids and omega fats (examples: Omega-7, Omega-9, Omega-11 fatty acids) that are not as well researched as EPA and DHA fatty acids, but there is a plethora of evidence to support overall health for populations eating fatty fish regularly.” She believes there is a synergistic effect in consuming multiple fats together to provide balance. So, while eating fatty fish is the best way to get the health benefits, salmon oil is the next best thing.

Question: How do you read a nutrition label for fish oil. I find it confusing. For example, the front of the bottle says 1000 milligrams yet the supplement facts panel on the back of the bottle says 2 softgels contain 600 milligrams of omega-3s.

Joerss understands the confusion and says “it is challenging for the consumers to interpret fish oil labels because they all look slightly different.” For Trident’s product, what you are taking is “Salmon Oil” so that is the name of the product and the largest font callout on the front of the label. The 1,000 mg is the amount of Salmon Oil you get with each softgel. This is typically the way “Fish Oils” are marketed especially if the oil is not refined because fish oil contains more than omega-3 fatty acids. (Another example would be “Cod Liver Oil” softgel products, they list the amount of cod liver oil consumed per unit or per softgel on the front, so you know how much cod liver oil each unit/softgel delivers).

PAO_Salmon-Oil_Costco.com_v7FAThe suggested serving size for the Pure Alaska Omega Wild Salmon Oil is 2 softgels which is 2,000 mg (2 grams) of salmon oil per serving. The salmon oil omega-3 content, other fatty acid contents, vitamin content (A & D), and other fat-soluble compounds remain present in the same portions and amounts you would find in the lipid (fatty) portion of wild salmon.” Which is why the amount of EPA + DHA don’t add up to 1000 milligrams.

However, Joerss adds that “while there are some products that do not list EPA and DHA exclusively on the label all fish oils should include a total omega-3 value.” She explains that some products, like “whole omega” fish oil calls out only total omega-3s because it is a natural product.

Watch out for the claim that omega-3 supplements contain a certain percent of the Daily Value or DV.   This is a meaningless claim because there is no Daily Value set by the USDA or FDA for fish oils. You will find a DV for nutrients like vitamin D, but not for fish oil.

Question: What is astaxanthin and is that unique in fish oil products?

Astaxanthin is an antioxidant or carotenoid found in bacteria and algae. It gives the pink color to shrimp and salmon and other crustaceans. Joerss explains that “astaxanthin is present in wild fish that eat and feed freely on algae and other fish in nature. Salmon oil that is cold-pressed, similar to extra-virgin olive oil, uses an extraction process that preserves the astaxanthin that is present in the wild salmon – so that is unique compared to most other fish oils which remove this as part of the refining/concentration process.” However, Joerss points out that astaxanthin in Trident’s salmon is oil is small when compared to products that add this carotenoid to their fish oil supplement.

Question: Is there a fish oil for vegans?

Algal oil is a good option for vegans. Algae is where fish get their EPA and DHA so oil made from algae can supply omega-3s to plant-based eaters. Algal oil is more costly than other fish oils but can meet the needs of vegans.

Question: Many people complain of a fishy aftertaste when taking fish oil…any tips for reducing the after taste (i.e., taking with meals, taking at a certain time of day, refrigerating the capsules?)

Some people do complain with the “fish burb” or aftertaste, but Joerss recommends taking the supplement at the beginning of a meal and a substantial meal, like lunch or dinner would be best. “Some people report taking it with orange juice, but I do not think oil and seafood typically pair nicely together with OJ!” She adds that “we do not recommend freezing or refrigerating the capsules because that will prolong the rupture time of the softgel. If the softgel does not rupture soon after being swallowed that is less time for your body to absorb the nutrients within each softgel.

For more information and resources for omega-3s, check out Trident’s brand, Pure Alaska Omega and also the website for the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s or GOED.

For more information on eating well in your 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond, check out Food & Fitness After 50.

Disclosure: I was a guest of Trident Seafoods, Women of Seafood, to learn more about wild Alaska fishing. However, I was not asked to write this post or compensated to do so.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Good Food for your Valentine

Tomorrow we think of affairs of the heart: flowers, cupid, and chocolate all come to mind. But, this year, treat your special someone to something really good for their heart and brain…seafood and fish. OK, not the most romantic or sexy of foods, but fish and seafood provide needed fats for healthy hearts and brains.

Fish and seafood contain high quality protein (here is an older post on protein for those over 50.)

But today we are focusing healthy fats. For that, fish can’t be beat. A quick look at the alphabet soup of healthy fats:

Fish oil pillsOmega-3s: These are the chemical class of healthy fats; if you want to impress your friends tell them the name omega-3s comes how the fat molecule is structured; the omega end of the chemical fat chain and the first double bond, 3 carbons in…hence, “omega-3s.”

EPA and DHA are 2 types of omega-3s that help to keep our blood vessels healthy (a healthy blood vessel dilates and contracts to control blood pressure and move blood throughout the body; a stiff blood vessel is not a healthy one), helps to lower a blood fat called triglycerides, and helps brains cells communicating (fat makes up a large part of our brain). DHA is especially important in brain health. Dr. Tom Brenna, of the Dell Pediatric Research Institute at the University of Texas at Austin puts it this way, “as calcium is to the bones, DHA is to the brain.”

ALA is another type of healthy omega-3 found in plant foods like walnuts, chia seeds, and flax. While we need this type of fat, too, only a small amount of it is converted to EPA and DHA, so it isn’t a substitute for fish, seafood, or fish oil supplements.

Health organizations recommend that we eat fish or seafood twice a week (4-ounce portions) to get the needed 250-500 milligrams of EPA and DHA. Not all fish is created equal when it comes to the healthy fats: fatty fish like salmon, trout, anchovies, mackerel, and sardines have the highest levels, with milder fish like cod, haddock, mahi mahi, and tilapia containing lower levels. However, don’t let that discourage your from eating tilapia or mahi mahi, but consider adding some sea bass or tuna in the mix to boost EPA and DHA intake. For great information on everything you want to know about fish…from omega-3 containing fish and seafood to choosing and preparing fish, check out the Seafood Nutrition Partnership.

A couple of other things to consider:
• Frozen or canned fish is not inferior; it is kind to your wallet and is a good way to eat fish if you can’t find fresh seafood in your local market. I use frozen fish to grill and blacken for tasty fish tacos and frozen shrimp for Pad Thai or a stir-fry.
• Grill it, broil it, bake it, steam it, or poach it to keep the omega-3s from losing their potency. The high heat of frying can break down the omega-3s, so save that cooking method for the occasional fish fry.
fish oil• If you just don’t like fish or have a family member who won’t touch it, consider fish oil supplements. Look at the nutrition facts panel to make sure you are getting EPA and DHA in the 250-500 milligram range. On this label you see value of a 1000 milligrams, but not all of that fish oil is EPA and DHA; you’ve got to look at the actual amount of EPA and DHA in the supplement.
• For vegetarians, consider an algae-based omega-3 supplement.

Take this quiz from the Global Organization on EPA and DHA Omegas.

And, happy Valentine’s Day!  More tips on food and fitness after 50 can be found in our book, available on Amazon.