Taste of sea: Healthy benefits of fish

Valeria Vlasova
16.04.2021
3 min read

Fish is a very important part of a healthy diet and a major source of omega-3 fats. It’s also rich in other nutrients such as vitamin D and selenium, high in protein, and low in saturated fat.

The American Heart Association gives a diet recommendation of eating at least 2 seafood servings every week — each of them should be 3-5 Oz (1), but unfortunately, statistics say that fewer than 1 in 5 Americans heeds that advice. About ⅓ of Americans eat seafood once a week, while nearly half eat fish only occasionally or not at all (2).

Benefits

In a comprehensive analysis of human studies, it was calculated that eating about 2 grams per week of omega-3 fatty acids in fish, equal to recommended servings by the AHA, reduces the chances of dying from heart disease by more than one-third (2).

Omega-3s are essential fats which means our bodies can’t make them and therefore our diet must contain them. The strongest data on omega-3s are really associated with heart health as well as triglyceride management (which is a type of fat found in your blood). According to one study, only 4 grams of EPA/DHA a day lowered triglycerides and very-low-density lipoprotein while raising so-called “good” HDL cholesterol and lowering total cholesterol (3).

Among other possible benefits are anti-inflammatory effect (4), the improvement of eye health, the lowering of blood pressure as well the slowing of the growth of plaque in your arteries and the decrease of abnormal heart rhythms (3). Thus, eating fish is a part of healthy diets like Nordic Diet which has fish as the main source of animal protein.

Possible risks

Besides undoubtedly good omega-3 fatty acids, there are many worries about numerous pollutants that have been found in fish. The contaminants of most concern today are mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, and pesticide residues.

The case for PCBs and dioxins isn’t so clear. A comprehensive report on the benefits and risks of eating fish compiled by the Institute of Medicine calls the risk of cancer from PCBs “overrated” (2).

Speaking of mercury, for most people, the risk from taking it by eating fish is not a health concern. Levels of mercury currently found in fish are far low, and the effect of it is controversial. Low levels have been linked only to subtle changes in nervous system development and a possible increased risk of cardiovascular disease, while very high levels of mercury can damage nerves in adults and disrupt development of the brain and nervous system in a fetus or young child (2).

As there is no clear evidence on significant risks but many the established benefits of fish consumption, the general recommendation is to give preference to low-mercury types.

What fish to eat

The highest levels of mercury found in fish contained in shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish (2). Avoiding these species is strongly recommended for women who are or may become pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children. This limitation, however, does not apply to the rest of the population, for whom the evidence supports simply choosing a variety of fish and seafood.

Great options of omega-3 sources are canned tuna and fish oil capsules which pose less concern. But the best choice is farmed Atlantic salmon – 1.5-2.5 Oz serving provides about 1,000 mg of omega-3s (the recommended amount) (5). To avoid possible PCBs in salmon, try to choose fish from companies that produce fish sustainably or use Apps like Good Fish Guide that could guide you for options.