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Good Reads  Marine & Freshwater Biology  Marine Biology  Marine Fauna & Flora

The Omega Principle Seafood and the Quest for a Long Life and a Healthier Planet

Coming Soon
By: Paul Greenberg(Author)
292 pages, b/w illustrations
NHBS
A book about fish oil supplements, yes, but more than that, The Omega Principle is a wide-ranging and thoroughly engaging reportage on the health of ourselves, our food system, and our oceans.
The Omega Principle
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  • The Omega Principle ISBN: 9781594206344 Hardback Jul 2018 Usually dispatched within 1 week
    £27.99
    #245236
  • The Omega Principle ISBN: 9780143111115 Paperback Jul 2019 Available for pre-order : Due Jul 2019
    £19.99
    #245235
Selected version: £27.99
About this book Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

By the bestselling author of Four Fish and American Catch, an eye-opening investigation of the history, science, and business behind omega-3 fatty acids, the "miracle compound" whose story is intertwined with human health and the future of our planet.

Omega-3 fatty acids have long been celebrated by doctors and dieticians as key to a healthy heart and a sharper brain. In the last few decades, that promise has been encapsulated in one of America's most popular dietary supplements. Omega-3s are today a multi-billion dollar business, and sales are still growing apace – even as recent medical studies caution that the promise of omega-3s may not be what it first appeared.

But a closer look at the omega-3 sensation reveals something much deeper and more troubling. The miracle pill is only the latest product of the reduction industry, a vast, global endeavour that over the last century has boiled down trillions of pounds of marine life into animal feed, fertilizer, margarine, and dietary supplements. The creatures that are the victims of that industry seem insignificant to the untrained eye, but turn out to be essential to the survival of whales, penguins, and fish of all kinds, including many that we love to eat.

Behind these tiny molecules is a big story: of the push-and-pull of science and business; of the fate of our oceans in a human-dominated age; of the explosion of land food at the expense of healthier and more sustainable seafood; of the human quest for health and long life at all costs. James Beard Award-winning author Paul Greenberg probes the rich and surprising history of omega-3s – from the dawn of complex life, when these compounds were first formed; to human prehistory, when the discovery of seafood may have produced major cognitive leaps for our species; and on to the modern era, when omega-3s may point the way to a bold new direction for our food system. With wit and boundless curiosity, Greenberg brings us along on his travels – from Peru to Antarctica, from the Canary Islands to the Amalfi Coast – to reveal firsthand the practice and repercussions of our unbalanced way of eating.

Rigorously reported and winningly told, The Omega Principle is a powerful argument for a more deliberate and forward-thinking relationship to the food we eat and the oceans that sustain us.

Customer Reviews (1)

  • Wide-ranging and eye-opening
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 11 Jan 2019 Written for Paperback


    American author Paul Greenberg has written two previous books about (eating) fish (American Catch and Four Fish), so he is no stranger to the rather, errr, fishy topic of omega-3 fatty acid supplements. His new book, The Omega Principle, is much more than just a critique of the supplement industry though. This engagingly written reportage digs far deeper, asking where this oil comes from, and reports on that vast segment of the global fishing industry known as the reduction industry, and a food system out of whack with our needs.

    So, let’s get one thing straight right off the bat. Omega-3 fatty acids are part of a healthy diet and Greenberg is not out to disprove this. But in that one sentence lies the essence of the problem. Our eating patterns in the Western world (Greenberg’s narrative is US-centric, but this applies to much of the developed world) have shifted us away from that healthy diet towards one which is poor in these fatty acids. Greenberg draws heavily on the book Queen of Fats, which is recommended if you want to know more about this. Rather than address the root cause, a vast supplement industry has filled the gap with omega-3–rich fish oil pills. And this is where the claimed benefits of omega-3 become fishy.

    As Greenberg explains, a loophole / feature of US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regulations is that supplements are not beholden to the same strict rules as food and medicine. This allows supplement manufacturers to make the wildest claims without having to back them up with scientific evidence. Most studies to date have been so-called assocation studies which can establish correlations (between omega-3 and, say, cardiac health), but do not necessarily say anything about causation (do these fatty acids actually cause the changes in cardiac health?). Rigorous, randomised, double-blind clinical trials have only recently completed, or were still underway as this book went to print. But, more and more, the claims of the supplement industry do not stand up to scrutiny.

    Surprised? Understandably, I wasn’t. And if that was all that he had to say here, this book would not make much of a splash. Instead, Greenberg casts his net wider. With an estimated worth of some 15 billion US dollars, the fish oil supplement industry churns out a lot of fish oil, which has to come from somewhere. This particular industry is but the latest use the reduction industry has found for its products. The reduction industry?

    “Reduction” is a euphemism for what happens to about a quarter of the fish caught globally – the smaller fish that we do not or only barely eat. Most of that is reduced, i.e. literally boiled and ground down to fishmeal, fertilizer, and oil. This is an industry that until not so long ago reduced whole whales to meat and oil, the latter destined to be used as lubricant and lamp oil (see The Sounding of the Whale and my review of Energy: A Human History). And, in accordance with overall patterns in the fishing industry, it is an industry that has overfished and exhausted fish stock after fish stock (see also my review of All the Boats on the Ocean), including the menhaden, profiled in the book The Most Important Fish in the Sea. Lately, the industry has started focusing on krill – the very same Norwegian company and boats that made an appearence in The Curious Life of Krill also get a mention here.

    Greenberg traces the threads further, describing what happens with the products of this reduction industry as it feeds the industrialised farming of livestock and, yes, other fish (see also The Fishmeal Revolution). Without being preachy, he describes an agricultural system out of whack with our dietary needs, supplying us with far too much protein we do not need in the form of excess meat, and too little of what we do need. And accompanying it are the numerous environmental problems in waterways and estuaries in the form of fertiliser runoff, algal blooms, episodes of hypoxia and anoxia (low or no oxygen in the water column), as well as the large contribution of methane emissions from all these farty ruminants to climate change. Though this should come as no surprise, I still found it remarkable to be reminded that they would emit far less methane if fed on a diet more natural to them, such as grass rather than fishmeal.

    Despite the ruinous state of the world brought on by these industries, Greenberg has not penned a book of despair with The Omega Principle. In the last chapter he profiles the many bold initiatives to change dietary patterns and develop healthier aquaculture practices (look out for mussels in your future). He even goes so far as to suggest how the energy sector and the fishing industry could work towards the same ends. Energy supplied by offshore wind farms instead of burning coal will reduce mercury emissions, making seafood healthier, while also offering habitat for (there they are again) mussel aquaculture. He acknowledges these have their own environmental price-tag, but pointedly asks the reader: which price would you rather pay? The take-home message (one that I keep hammering home since my review of The Irresponsible Pursuit of Paradise) being, of course, that there is always a price to pay.

    Supplied with exemplary annotated notes, The Omega Principle is not afraid to branch out from its starting topic. Whether you have an interest in the efficacy or lack thereof of fish oil supplements, the seafood industry, or the health of our oceans, there is something in here for everyone. This is a wonderfully written, engaging reportage that comes highly recommended.
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Biography

Paul Greenberg is the author of the James Beard Award-winning Four Fish and American Catch and a regular contributor to The New York Times. His writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, National Geographic, and GQ, among other publications, and he has lectured widely on ocean issues at institutions ranging from Google to Yale to the U.S. Senate. He lives in New York.

Coming Soon
By: Paul Greenberg(Author)
292 pages, b/w illustrations
NHBS
A book about fish oil supplements, yes, but more than that, The Omega Principle is a wide-ranging and thoroughly engaging reportage on the health of ourselves, our food system, and our oceans.
Media reviews

"Greenberg elucidates the mechanisms behind the incredibly popular dietary supplement, examines its impact on the ocean, and embarks on a personal experiment to get to the bottom of an array of health claims. The result is informative and fun (and yes, surprisingly perfect for the beach!)"
Civil Eats

"Greenberg's narrative maneuvers the world of omega-3 fatty acids with a healthy dose of skepticism and a mission to uncover truth that lies under the waves [...] Greenberg gives us science writing with heart."
Sierra magazine

"Popular writers often extol the benefits of omega-3s. Greenberg reviews the shaky evidence and delivers a penetrating analysis of its science, business, and future [...] Greenberg also includes specifics of a healthy, life-extending diet; it requires omega-3s – but not in pill form [...] An expert review of the human exploitation of marine life."
Kirkus

"The angles for looking at omega-3s are many. The Omega Principle is a welcome one-stop shop, evaluating the science underlying its status as nutritional darling, the massive supplement industry behind it, and the fragile ecosystems propping that industry up. If you take fish oil, eat fish, or follow the arrow of conventional nutritional science, this is a topic you owe it to yourself to research [...] Greenberg's conversational writing style makes his books anything but an academic exercise."
Medium

"Paul Greenberg's book ranges widely and with great gusto – from fisheries halfway across the globe to academic conferences on metabolism and longevity – to tell the story of supplements, dietary fads, quackery, and the future of human health. This is an important, entertaining, and wonderfully crafted work."
– Siddhartha Mukherjee

"It takes no small measure of writing skill to make a book about fatty acids gripping. To be honest, I have never been drawn to the subject and tend to avoid people who use the phrase "omega 3". And yet Paul Greenberg has written a book on the subject that is engaging and important, a book that is a pleasure and should be read."
– Mark Kurlansky

"The Omega Principle encapsulates all the complexity and intricacies of our broken food system with the story of one (seemingly) simple supplement. Paul Greenberg takes us on another brilliant deep dive with an entirely new lens. This book demands our attention."
– Dan Barber

"Paul Greenberg goes searching for the secret to longevity, and what he learns is, in many ways, more interesting. The Omega Principle should be read by anyone who cares about human health or the health of the planet, which is to say everyone."
– Elizabeth Kolbert

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