Finding the fish: Rethinking nutrition amid modern diets

By Gerald Quigley

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock
In a perfect world you would get all the omega-3s you need by eating fish, but less than 10% of Australian adults consume the required level of fish regularly, writes Gerald Quigley.

For people who are struggling to reach their fish consumption targets, taking krill or fish oil supplements may be affordable and effective. Krill oil delivers omega-3 fatty acids mostly in phospholipid rather than triglyceride form, providing an efficient means of delivering these vital fatty acids at lower dosages than fish oil.

Gerald Quigley
Gerald Quigley

Vegetarians don’t need to miss out on omega-3s despite a fish-free diet. There are—and will be as time goes by—new plant sources of omega-3s. That will happen, though it will probably involve genetic modification so education will have to be a very strong part of that.

Taking omega-3s from food is always the preferred route due to our genetic programming to process the nutrients. 

But Australians don’t eat a lot of fish, even though we are surrounded by water, which is always puzzling. Children today, for some reason or other (children only eat what their parents eat) are missing out at all levels as well. Perhaps that contributes to some of the behavioural issues we have been seeing in children these days, though that’s probably yet to be proven. 

It’s not just about cooking and eating, the whole meal process is about engagement and social discussions, that helps the meal as well. The Europeans do it beautifully, Americans do it poorly, and Australians also do it poorly. Preparing a meal together, eating it together, being together is what a meal's all about. If fish is part of that, even better. But the meal process is emotionally and socially a very important part of ageing well.

Fruit and vegetables are another issue. An interesting survey from the federal government came out late last year by a funded organisation called the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, which show that 95% of Australians do not eat the recommended proportions of fruit and vegetables each day. 

Now that’s a frightening statistic because we have experts, for want of a better word, telling us that a balanced diet is ideal. Now I have never in 46 years met a person who has a balanced diet; nobody really knows what a balanced diet is. But this frightening statistic shows that if there’s ever a reason to look at a range of nutrients from a nutritional supplements perspective, even a basic multivitamin, there was the evidence. But there was little coverage in the press, which surprised me.

Food is information for our body, and that’s why it’s so important to engage with a practitioner who can help you understand your needs for individualised treatment. There’s no one-size-fits-all with this, we all have our own nutritional requirements. And if there ever was a time for pharmacists and GPs to actually just step back and think about what they can to help their patients get more involved in their health, they should be doing it. 

Keeping levels of inflammation under control is fundamental to our wellness as we age. And if we can teach a whole younger generation to start doing that—and middle-aged Australians especially to really encompass it—we will have a much healthier population as we age. And the health cost will be much less than it is now, because it is currently out of control. We seem to think there is a band-aid pill for every little ill that comes along: someone has got to pay for it.  

We have to be careful that we don’t get caught up in all the science and the evidence and the justification because the consumer wants to engage with someone they trust to get the best results. All the technical information has to be demystified and put into an easily digestible mass in precise form for the consumer to say, “right that’s what I’ve got to do now​”.

  • Gerald Quigley is a community pharmacist, accredited herbalist and broadcast commentator on nutrition. Story captured in conversation with RJ Whitehead.

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