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Fish Factor

Omega 3's, Selenium nixes mercury scares & Slurp and learn
By Laine Welch


October 30, 2007

Two terms have become tops in the English vocabulary and both benefit Alaska seafood.

The first is "omega 3 fatty acids," which is ranked as this year's most popular food additive and will be found in more items than ever. That's according to USA Today, one of the nation's most widely read news sources. A primary market is the nearly 80 million U.S. baby boomers, said a HealthFocus USA Trend Survey, and four in 10 adults are seeking more omegas in their diets.

"It's just been in the last few decades as we've industrialized our food supply that we've basically eradicated this nutrient from our diet. When you don't get it, all kinds of bad things start happening," said Randy Hartnell, a former Bristol Bay fisherman, now owner of the popular seafood web business Vital Choice. (

Omega 3's can't be produced by our bodies and must be obtained from foods, notably fish and some plant sources. Many nutritional studies from around the world show that all omegas are not created equal, and the most important compound (DHA) is far more abundant in fish oils than any other food source. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute lists sockeye (red) salmon as having the highest amount of omega-3 of any fish, with approximately 2.7 grams per 100-gram portion. ( Based on American Heart Association guidelines, that means just one serving of sockeye salmon per week can help to lower cholesterol and the risk of heart disease.

Two years ago omega 3's were added to 120 American food products. Last year that number jumped to 250 and it is growing fast. Tropicana, for example, launched the first orange juice fortified with omega 3's and Kellogg has taken the lead in adding it to cereals. Ditto, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter.

Natural food company Earth's Best includes omega 3's in its infant formula, as more studies show it adds to babies' brain development. Omega 3's are also in some eggs, produced by chickens that are fed a diet high in canola oil.

The amazing health properties of omega 3's have not been lost on the multi-billion dollar pet food industry. Procter & Gamble added the nutrient to some of its pet foods way back in 1993, followed a year later by Iams. That company expanded its omega 3 use to puppy chow last year to help boost brain development in growing dogs.

'Sustainable' is the second term that is enjoying common usage among English speakers, as well as others. It was selected as the top word for 2006 by Global Language Monitor. ( The San Diego based - GLM tracks and analyzes language trends the world over, with a particular emphasis on global English.

The Monitor said the word sustainable, long considered a 'green' term, "has moved into the mainstream and can apply to populations, marriages, agriculture, economies, and the like. It defines sustainable as meaning self generating, the opposite of disposable".

The word reflects very favorably on Alaska, as its salmon, pollock, halibut and sablefish (black cod) fisheries are internationally certified as models for sustainable management practices. Alaska's cod and flounder fisheries are also in the 'eco-label' pipeline.

Food forecasters predict that along with "sustainable," words like "organic" and "local" will continue to be big buzzwords, and we will hear more about "foods with a conscience," like fair trade coffees and chocolates. The most frequently used English word on the planet? 'Ok.'

Selenium nixes mercury scares

Fish rich in selenium in neutralizes mercury and reduces the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Along with the more well known omega 3's, seafood has some of the highest levels of a mineral called selenium than any other foods. (Per ounce only Brazil nuts have more.)

Selenium is essential to good health ­ and it is a major overlooked factor in the ongoing debate over mercury and fish. Studies show that selenium is present in deep-water fish at five to 20 times the concentration of mercury. And when the two chemicals bind, methyl mercury appears to be neutralized. Research by Dr. Nicholas Ralston at the Univ. of North Dakota found that the most popular fish eaten by Americans - including salmon, pollock, tuna and flounders - all contain much more selenium than mercury. In fact, all ocean fish are rich in selenium, with the exception of shark.

Ralston was widely reported in the fish press last week, claiming that eating more fish rich in selenium and omega 3's - especially pregnant women and nursing mothers ­ can only benefit developing babies. (See "Mercury-Fighting Mineral in Fish Overlooked".)

Selenium is also credited with substantially reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, which stems from plaque build up that destroys brain cells. That was the conclusion of a nine year study in France, and more recently, in a study of 2,000 elderly Chinese by researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine.

Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, affecting more than 4.5 million Americans. Health experts predict the number of cases could reach 16 million by 2050. The cost of caring for Alzheimer patients in the U.S. now tops $100 billion a year. High selenium intake is also associated with lower risk of hardening of the arteries, and may reduce the risk of cancer.

Slurp and learn

The Alaska Shellfish Growers Association annual meeting is set for Nov. 2-3 at the UAA Conference Center in Anchorage. On the agenda: PSP funding and efforts to modify sampling requirements; moving mariculture from ADFG to DNR; an update on the Oceans Alaska Center in Ketchikan, which aims to be a world leader in shellfish aquaculture, workshops for growers ­ and ASGA's famous Saturday evening shellfish slurp and reception. Get more info from Rodger Painter at .


Kodiak-based Laine Welch has been reporting news of Alaska's seafood industry for print and radio for 20 years. Fish Factor appears in 15 newspapers and websites. Laine's Fish Radio programs air daily on more than 25 stations across Alaska.
Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

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Ketchikan, Alaska