Friday, November 26, 2010

Getting enough omega-3's (without fish)

One of my concerns with being a non-fish eating vegetarian is the question of whether I get enough omega-3 fatty acids (“good fats”): Should I eat fish sometimes? Should I be taking fish-oil supplements? My body might need me to put those lox on my bagel and cream cheese?

We’ve heard why omega-3’s are good for us: they help reduce inflammation, reduce risk of heart disease, reduce risk of dementia… not to mention they may help keep protect your telomeres.

The other day my younger sister forwarded me a news alert from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, highlighting a recent study of 14,422 people showing that women on vegan diets do have an expected lower intake of omega-3’s, but they also have greater conversion of plant-based precursors to omega-3’s, and thus they have higher than expected blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

That’s reassuring! That means that our bodies will probably make adequate amounts of omega 3’s from a plant-based diet (which includes walnuts, flaxseeds, plant-based oils).

I was especially glad to see a medical peer-reviewed paper addressing the bigger problem of our diminishing fish supply:
“Current dietary recommendations for maintenance of [adequate omega-3 levels]… are to consume one or more portions of oily fish per week; however, the supply of wild fish is dwindling and efforts to conserve the fish supply are needed.”
(If you haven't yet seen the documentary End of the Line, check it out!):


  1. I love this blog post! Yea for younger sisters!
    I highly recommend "End of the Line" too. "Food Inc" is also excellent. "The Cove" (about the unforgiveable slaugher of dolphins in Taiji, Japan) is another documentary worth watching.

  2. Dear Christina
    I worry about the omegas as well. My main source of oil is peanut butter, lately the good kind without additives or sugar. But I have to discipline myself not to over eat it. I use oils sparingly in my cooking. I used to take fish tablets for the omegas, but then the source is fish and I'm non fish eating vegetarian as well, so it did not feel right. I don't know the source of B12 in my supplements, but take it since we vegetarians don't get it in our typical foods.

  3. Christina,

    Can you post a link or citation for that info? I feel like everyone that speaks to us in chiropractic school is pushing the omega-3s and then when I ask about vegetarianism and what veggies can do to get their allotment the speaker just makes and uncomfortable face and says something like, "they can take fish oil supplements", which of course is not really the point.

  4. Hi Sara,

    Yes definitely! You should be able to click on the link to the study in that blog post, but just in case here is the link to the pubmed reference:

    And here is the news alert from Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine:

  5. Hi Christina! I just stumbled upon your blog - I'm a first-year medical student in New York City - and was so happy to see there are other yoga practitioners also in medical school! I'd be curious to hear how you've been able to integrate your yoga practice into your practice of medicine...I'm still trying to figure out what that means for myself. My blog is - would love to hear from you!


  6. Julia, wow, it's so great to hear from you, thank you for commenting! I just found your blog and will definitely keep up with it!!! Where are you practicing in NY while in school (are you able to at all?)

  7. I practice at Yoga Sutra in NYC! What about you, where do you practice? How've you been able to keep up your practice while in med school? I feel like the yoga mentality and that of Western medicine's clashes quite a bit...still trying to learn how to deal with that... any advice for me on that? :)

  8. Hey Julia!

    This is a really good question: it has been HARD to keep up a practice during med school. But I found that the harder and more demanding medical school became, the more important it was for me to keep up a daily practice.

    This is a huge topic and I think probably deserves its own blog post at some point, but here are some initial thoughts...

    -Get up in the early morning for a home practice... no matter how early! If you have to be at the hospital at 5:30, get up at 3:30! It will transform the rest of your day.

    -Make a little cup of coffee before practicing (after getting such little sleep I would never have been able to practice without this!)

    -Do a long practice at a studio on weekends or days when your schedule allows. This makes all the difference... a home practice is hard to maintain and I really think having a weekly boost/tune-up with a teacher is key.

    -Find friends to practice with. It took me a while to find good friends who share my values, interests, and all the lifestyle things that go along with the ashtanga yoga practice. If you ever come to Philly let me know and I'll introduce you to some wonderful likeminded yogi/medical women here!

    -Listen to your body and do the practice you need: some days just sit, some days do more second series, some maybe more backbends or inversions.

    -When you have weeks free to study for board exams (Step 1, Step 2), make the yoga practice part of your daily ritual. It was during my Step 1 studying that I really got myself back into the practice (and I don't think I would have done nearly as well on the exam if it weren't for this practice).

    -Do weekend workshops when possible. Take advantage of teachers when they come to you!

    -Don't hide your yoga practice from your med school world. This is what I did for the first couple years of medical school, but then sometime in my 3rd year I stopped feeling like I had to hide it (not even sure where that feeling was coming from). By talking and writing more about it, I've realized there are so many people out there who share this interest! So keep writing, talking, sharing... and build up that community around you!

    Ok I think that's all for now but I'll see if I can think of more things that helped me. Keep me updated on what works for you... cause once I start residency in June I think I'll have to figure out some new strategies :)


  9. Dear, sweet Christina,

    I can't thank you enough for that last comment. It is just what I needed. I am a 2nd year chiropractic student and our days start a 7:30 and end at 5:30. A 6:45 bike ride to school starts my days. I also have been struggling with keeping up with practice. These tips are SO helpful. I was in Philly practicing (Wake Up Yoga) before this and had such a solid practice. Crazy days have knocked me down to 3 practices in a good week and now at the end of our term I didn't practice once last week (and feeling it). I'm definitely going to try out your tips. Thanks for being such an inspiration!