For anyone on the pursuit of optimal health, the focus on individual wellness often evolves to a broader conversation about our interconnectedness with our environment. This applies to everything from our circadian rhythm to the source of our meat and produce to how our supplements are sourced.
In the case of nutritional supplements, the origin and production of a particular product can drastically change not only how it functions in the body, but on a larger scale, it’s broader impact on the environment.
More people are realizing the metabolic advantage that can result from using supplementation to support their health. Amongst the most popular and beneficial options, when sourced and produced optimally, are omega-3 fish oil and protein powder. (Read about the health benefits of fish oil here and the importance of optimizing protein intake here.) As the high demand for fish oil, whey protein, and collagen protein continues to increase, a big-picture question naturally does as well: Are my supplements sustainable?
As the health benefits of fish oil have become more common knowledge, the market has become more saturated with product offerings. While having purchasing options is a good thing, it can also lead to confusion to the customer — especially when all the offerings are not created equally.
Over-fishing and large, non-specific, repetitive catches in international waters can pose a significant ecosystem and sustainability problem, and it’s important to know if the product you’re taking is a contributor to this issue.
Additionally, the journey of your product from fish to supplement has a dramatic influence on the end result and its metabolic impact.
Here are some things to consider:
Type of fish
When compared to larger or more predatory species of fish, smaller fish have less of a mercury risk in the final product. And with the right practices, they can have less of an impact on the environment too.
At Life Time, our fish oil is supplied by Golden Omega, and it comes from anchovy sourced from closely regulated fishing practices off the coast of Chile. Anchovy has one of the highest sources of omega-3 compared to other fish options, so it’s a mindfully selected, more efficient option. They have a lifespan of 12 to 16 months and reproduce rapidly and regenerate quickly.
This is a stark contrast to fish oil sourced from species such as salmon, tuna, and cod.
The fishery used by Golden Omega is closely managed by independent research groups that measure the biomass and determine an acceptable quota of total catch for each fishing season. It’s measured by authorities when it is off-loaded from the boat. In addition to total amount caught, another important factor assessed and regulated is the age of the fish in the catch.
When there’s a “juvenile” catch — meaning more young fish — that means there’s reproduction occurring in the fish population. When the juvenile catch is above a predetermined percentage, all fishing is immediately halted. Reproduction and regeneration should not to be interrupted. In Golden Omega’s case, it’s not unusual for the fishery used to halt production in the middle of the season for this reason to protect the integrity of the ecosystem.
The marketing of most so-called “Norwegian fish oil” — identifiable with imagery of cold-water fish caught fresh and processed for their omega-3 oils — can be misleading. Many fish oil products marketed this way are not actually sourced off the coast of Norway at all: they are caught in the South Pacific, then the crude fish oil is transported to Scandinavia in large drums, where various companies buy the oil from brokers.
This is far from the case in Life Time’s product offering. Our carefully selected supplier is uniquely located next to the largest fishery in the world for anchovy, which sidesteps the need to transport the oil large distances for processing. As a result, they have naturally minimized their carbon footprint.
A few samples of oil are shipped to Norway for the sole purpose of conducting independent laboratory testing by a separate company to ensure that the samples are 100 percent anchovy — and not sourced from fish that could potentially have a more detrimental impact on the environment.
As a bonus, the manufacturing site uses 100 percent renewable energy sources. The drums that transport the crude oil are purposefully purchased in parts to be assembled onsite. This allows every truckload of drum parts to yields what would have been six truckloads of completed drums.
Whey and Collagen Protein
Cattle farming and sourcing is an important topic when it comes to sustainability and environmental health. It’s nice to picture cows roaming with their fellow herd on green pastures, happily chomping on grass in the sunshine. Sadly, when it comes to a lot of beef and cow-sourced protein on the market, this image is far from reality.
Avoid synthetic pesticides and hormones
Protein powders at Life Time are proudly produced by carefully selected manufacturers located in Northern California.
Our whey protein is sourced from pasture-raised, grass-fed cattle from New Zealand. Our collagen peptides is sourced from pasture-raised, grass-fed cows in Argentina, Columbia, and Brazil. Both are intentional alternatives to the feedlot cattle often used for many of the products sourced in the United States.
Feedlot cattle are often injected with hormones to drive faster growth and are given feed that is heavily sprayed with pesticides. The cows in New Zealand and South America that are used in production of Life Time’s whey and collagen graze on grass that is free of synthetic pesticides, and they are never injected with growth hormones.
For anyone with a sustainability concern, the health of the cow — and whether or not it was treated humanely — is a top priority.
Woefully, a lot of protein powder on the market is sourced from cows that are raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). These operations can pose both an environmental and animal welfare concern. The cows are penned closely together, unable to roam, and are fed feed instead of grazing on grass like they would in their natural environment.
At Life Time, our whey protein is sourced from milk from happy cows. These cows are not from feedlots or CAFOs. They’re part of a herd and roam on pasture, feeding on grass — the way nature intended.
In New Zealand, where the whey is sourced from, the cows naturally give birth at a higher rate than the conventional grain-fed, penned cows in the U.S. Their product is also higher in beneficial IgG immune compounds, with some laboratory tests confirming an increase of up to 25 percent — making the final product more beneficial for our health, with more efficient production.
For many companies that have their protein powder production solely in the U.S., the supply chain can be surprisingly long and disjointed. Each stage of processing is frequently sub-contracted to different companies across state lines. This results in more transportation and longer processing times.
In contrast, the whey and collagen offerings through Life Time have a purposeful short supply chain for manufacturing, which is tight and controlled.
Additionally, for all of Life Time’s options, we only use quality manufacturers with careful ingredient selection and rigorous testing standards. (Read more about supplement regulation here: Are Dietary Supplements Unregulated?)
Ultimately, it’s important to know where your supplements came from — and what process they went through to end up as a final product in your hands. The journey from start to finish can and does have a significant impact on not just your own health, but the health of our planet as well.
It’s also worth noting that this commitment to responsible sourcing isn’t exactly new at Life Time — we’ve had these supply chain and manufacturing relationships in place for several years. In a way, it’s one of our best kept secrets that we’re proud to share with you. We make products we trust for ourselves and feel lucky to offer them to you too.