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Want big health benefts? Go fish!

When it comes to heart health, seafood is an outstanding diet choice. That’s because just two servings a week of fish can significantly lower triglycerides, blood pressure and your risk of heart attack and stroke.

In particular, cold-water fish, such as salmon and trout, are brimming with polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids that prevent blood platelets from attaching to artery walls. Of course, keeping arteries clear is one surefire way to ensure healthy blood flow, good blood pressure and a low risk for heart attack and stroke.

Reeling in protection

These special fatty acids first came to light about 30 years ago. Scientists in Greenland discovered that Eskimos who consumed large amounts of fatty fish and seal blubber had very few heart attacks. Further research pointed to heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids in seafood as the primary cardio-protective ingredient. These same acids are found in much smaller amounts in flaxseed, leafy green vegetables, soybeans, nuts and canola oil.

So far, omega-3 fatty acids have earned a stellar reputation for reducing coronary disease. In one study, 80,000 female nurses who ate 4-ounce servings of fish two to four times a week cut their risk of clot-induced stroke by nearly half. In another, men who ate just one meal of fish a week reduced their risk of a fatal heart attack by 50 percent. Additionally, fish is an excellent source of protein and is low in saturated fat—perfect for good nutrition and maintaining a healthy weight. What’s more, fish can be baked, grilled or steamed in just minutes, making it a versatile entree for busy families. (But avoid frying for best benefits.)

More fish stories

Omega-3 fatty acids—also called fish oil—are present in substantial amounts inside our brains, too, and some researchers think they help monitor our moods. A small Harvard Medical School study treated 30 patients with bipolar disorder with a therapy of fish oil. After four months, 65 percent of patients showed marked improvement. Researchers are now looking to see if fish oil can also help ease depression.

Still others speculate that sushi, that trendy Japanese slice of fresh raw fish, might help prevent some types of lung cancer. They note that lung cancer incidence is 66 percent less in Japan than in the West—even though the Japanese smoke as much as British or American citizens. The difference, they claim, is that the Japanese regularly eat fresh fish all their lives.

The American Heart Association says that you can reap the benefits of a diet rich in fish by eating two or three 6-ounce servings a week. Here are some other great tips for incorporating fish into your diet:

  • Cast a wide net. These seafood sources have abundant levels of omega-3 fatty acids: cod, halibut, shark, mackerel, salmon, sardines, tuna, trout, herring, bluefish, shrimp, flounder and swordfish.
  • Get it fresh. When shopping for fish, look for moist, bright fillets with a sheen. Don’t buy fish with dry spots, discoloration or a fishy odor. Eat refrigerated fresh fish within two days and don’t keep frozen fish more than 90 days.
  • Make it snappy. Fish cooks quickly. Rule of thumb: 10 minutes per inch of thickness, and temperature inside of 145° F. Fish should be flaky and opaque when served.
  • Monitor your mercury. Unsafe levels of mercury have been found in some types of fish, such as salmon. To protect yourself, eat farm—raised salmon no more than once a month and look for wild salmon instead.