Navigating Omega-3 in Different Diets
Whether you’re eating like a caveman, refusing all carbs or cramming all your meals into an eight-hour window, you may have wondered if your dietary plan is compatible with your daily dose of fish oil. After all, they didn’t exactly have omega-3 supplements in the paleolithic era. And couldn’t the calories in that fish oil undo all your hard work, by throwing you out of ketosis or breaking your fast?
Well first of all, it’s important to remember that while paleo, keto and intermittent fasting all have their health benefits, any big change in the way you’re eating could see you missing out on some vital nutrients. Skipping dinner? There goes your most vitamin-packed meal of the day. Eliminating carbohydrates? You’ll have cut out a huge swathe of healthy foods. And if you can’t track down (or afford) paleo-friendly grass-fed meat or wild-caught fish every day, you’ll be missing out on lots of essential fats, too.
That’s why it’s so important to carry on taking omega-3. Keeping up with your normal supplement regime will ensure you’re still getting plenty of essential fatty acids that are vital for general good health, no matter what style of eating you’re trying.
But when’s the best time to take your supplement if you’re fasting? Is omega-3 paleo? And could fish oil take you out of ketosis? Find out the answers to all of this and more in our guide.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting (IF) is the practice of going without eating for extended periods of time. And, while it may feel like it’s the latest dieting buzzword, it’s actually not new at all. People have fasted throughout history, whether for religious reasons or just because food was scarce.
But although fasting has been a part of the human experience for thousands of years, it fell out of fashion in recent years. Three meals a day may have been the norm in the 1950s, but over time people were encouraged to eat snacks in between to ‘boost’ their metabolism and stop blood sugar levels from dipping.
That all changed in August 2012, when the BBC broadcast a Horizon episode called 'Eat Fast and Live Longer' presented by doctor and journalist Michael Mosley. Dr Mosley presented the latest clinical research on the diet which showed IF’s benefits, not just on our waistlines, but on our health and longevity.
Now, with the 5:2,16:8,0:4,the ‘every other day’ diet and more, there’s almost as many permutations of IF as there are devotees of the practice. You simply choose the one that fits in best with your daily routine. Too busy for breakfast? Simply eat at lunch and you’ve done the 16:8. Forgotten to take your packed lunch to work? Just wait until you get home and you’ve done the 20:4.
What are the benefits of intermittent fasting?
Besides helping people lose weight in a way that was easier to sustain, fasting was found to have another important benefit - it seemed to reverse many of the markers of bodily ageing.
Not eating for an extended period turns on autophagy, a cleansing process where the body identifies failing cells and marks them for destruction. And its rejuvenation effects didn’t end there because fasting was also found to stimulate growth hormones, making it a kind of whole body renovation package.
Both its weight loss and longevity benefits stem from fastings effect on insulin. When you don’t eat, insulin is lowered. Prolonged periods of low insulin force the body to turn to stored sugar as a fuel source and when that’s been depleted it’ll start using up your fat stores. And when insulin goes down, glucagon (a hormone involved in keeping blood sugar levels stable) goes up. It’s the increase in glucagon that kick-starts the process of autophagy.
Does omega-3 stop a fast?
There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to omega-3 and intermittent fasting. Whether you decide that omega-3 will break your fast or it won’t all depends on how strict you’re being and your reasons for fasting in the first place.
Technically a true fast is water only, but from drinking coffee to eating 500 calories on a ‘fast day’, the experts have discovered you can bend the rules and still reap the health benefits of the eating practice.Of course if you’re trying a daily fasting method such as 16:8 or 20:4 you don’t even have to worry if omega-3 will break your fast. You could just take your supplement within your own eating window, as time-restricted feeding author Max Lowery recommends. The author of The Two Meal Day told us, “Taking fish oils would certainly take you out of the fasted state, so I take my Life & Soul with my first meal of the day. It's part of my routine now."
But even if you’re attempting a longer fast, taking a supplement such as omega-3 won’t make any difference, whether your goal is weight loss or longevity. Yes there are 45 calories in a teaspoon of oil. But because it’s pure fat with no protein or carbs, ingesting it won’t affect insulin levels or turn off autophagy (which would be turned off if you consumed the same number of calories in protein form). That’s why some intermittent fasting diets (such as the Bulletproof method) still allow you to eat fat while you fast, as long as you avoid protein and carbs.
While it’s not dangerous or unhealthy to take fish oil or capsules on an empty stomach, doing so can affect the way the oil is absorbed by your body.
OMEGA-3 AND PALEO
What is the paleo diet?
The paleo diet is based on the notion that while today’s food choices may include all kinds of processed options, our bodies haven’t had a chance to adapt to them. With that in mind, paleo devotees eat only the kinds of food that our paleolithic ancestors would have enjoyed some 2.5 million years ago.
Step away from that peanut butter sandwich and glass of milk because dairy, legumes and grains are off the menu. They’re far too modern, having only entered our diets a mere 10,000 years ago with the inception of agriculture. You can however eat anything that would have been hunted or foraged by our caveman ancestors. Think leafy greens, nuts and seeds, grass-fed meats, wild fish and a few berries.
What are the benefits of the paleo diet?
There’s no such thing as the perfect diet, but if you’re living by paleo rules you’ll certainly be eating ‘clean’. There are very low amounts of processed foods and lashings of vegetables, fruit and nuts. The cornerstones of a healthy diet.
And if you’re strict about avoiding factory-farmed meats and fish and sticking only to grass-fed and wild varieties, you’ll also be eating a far more balanced ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats. Modern industrial food methods mean that grain is regularly fed to cattle and fish, so that the omega-6 now outweighs the omega-3, unheard of in paleolithic times.
Is omega-3 fish oil paleo?
It’s true, a caveman would not have had access to any fancy nutritional supplements. But it’s worth remembering that traditional cultures have been eating some form of fish oil (usually fermented) for hundreds of years.
Generally speaking, fish is paleo and oil is paleo, so fish oil should be just fine, providing you stick to a brand that uses wild, not farmed, varieties like Bare Biology’s Life & Soul.
Tips for taking omega-3 when fasting
The key to taking omega-3 fish oil supplements when fasting is to experiment, because everyone is different. You may find that a teaspoon of fish oil on an empty stomach works just fine or you could find it makes you a little queasy. If that’s the case, try just half a teaspoon, or split the dose so you’re not taking it all at once.
But if you are able to take your supplement within your eating window, it may be a good idea to do so. While it’s not dangerous or unhealthy to take fish oil or capsules on an empty stomach, doing so can affect the way the oil is absorbed by your body.
Taking omega-3 fish oil with a meal that contains fat means there’ll be more fat-digesting enzymes around to help the body absorb all the healthy essential fatty acids in the supplement. It can also help break down the capsules and will minimise any side effects, such as heartburn or indigestion.
OMEGA-3 ON KETO DIETS
What is the keto diet?
A keto (short for ketogenic) diet is a low-carb, moderate protein, high-fat diet. It involves eating as little as 20g of carbohydrate per day.
With such low carbohydrates, your body can no longer use glucose as fuel. Instead it uses ketones, small fuel molecules that the liver produces from fat. Basically you switch from being a sugar burner to a fat burner - a change in energy supply that can be highly effective when it comes to tapping into your own fat stores (ie saying goodbye to that muffin top).
What are the benefits of the keto diet?
A keto diet is supposed to give you many of the same health benefits as intermittent fasting, because the lack of carbohydrates keeps insulin levels really low. Yet there’s one important difference. Because you’re still allowed to eat lots of satisfying fat, you won’t go hungry.
Having such a steady energy supply also helps to increase focus and concentration.
Is omega-3 fish oil suitable for a ketogenic diet?
Being pure fat, fish oil will not take you out of ketosis. Plus omega-3 can be really useful if you’re eating lots of keto-friendly oils like sunflower, peanut or rapeseed as they contain large amounts of omega-6.
In balanced amounts, omega-3 and 6 complement each other perfectly. While omega-6 increases inflammation, helps your blood to clot and cells to proliferate, omega-3 does the opposite. They both work together to keep the body in check. But if your diet contains vast quantities of omega-6 and comparatively little omega-3, they end up competing for space. Taking a supplement can help address this imbalance.
If you’re on the keto diet and don’t like fish, or you’re worried that eating too much of it could expose you to toxins and pollution, taking a daily dose of a pure, fresh omega-3 supplement such as Bare Biology’s Life & Soul is a great idea. Not only can Life & Soul ensure you’re getting enough essential fats to balance the amount of omega-6 you’re eating, it is made using small, wild fish and independently tested to ensure it’s free from nasties.
Do I even need to take omega-3 fish oil if I’m doing the paleo diet?
If you stick to the letter of the diet by eating only grass-fed meats and you regularly eat wild fish, you will certainly be getting a much better balance of omega-6 to omega-3. But sometimes that’s just not possible. Not only is it incredibly expensive, grass-fed and wild options can sometimes be hard to find if, for example, you’re eating out on holiday. A supplement can make sure you’re getting all the omega-3 you need.
You might also need a supplement if you’re transitioning to a paleo way of eating. Having a lifetime of excess omega-6 consumption behind you might take a few months to correct and you might not have the inclination (or cash) to eat wild fish every day.
So can I take omega-3 while intermittent fasting or on the keto or paleo diets?
The answer is a resounding yes. You can and you should! No matter which diet you’re trying, taking omega-3 will help ensure you’re not lacking in this fatty acid that’s essential for general good health.
Whether you’re fasting for health or weight loss, omega-3 won’t break your fast and is safe to take, even on an empty stomach. Being a pure oil, omega-3 won’t take you out of ketosis either.
And finally, providing you take a supplement made using just wild fish (such as the high-quality fish oil liquid and capsules we make here at Bare Biology), fish oil is most definitely paleo-friendly, too.