Why Eat Fatty Fish?
Oily fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, trout and sardines are not only tasty, but they offer a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Other seafood that contains these fatty acids includes shrimp, catfish, clams, cod, and halibut. The American Dietetic Association, as well as the American Heart Association, recommends eating two servings of fatty fish every week.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential polyunsaturated fatty acids – this means that they are not synthesized by the body and have to come from dietary sources to enjoy their benefits. Scientific evidence shows that consuming foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids has health benefits including:
- reducing triglyceride levels by as much as 25-30 percent
- increasing levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL), which is good cholesterol
- reducing platelet stickiness, thus preventing formation of blood clots
- reducing blood pressure
- reducing the risk for atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease
Because of the mounting evidence on the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, the Food and Drug Administration has approved the health claims associated with them, including those of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which are two types of omega-3 fatty acids.
Including Fatty Fish in the Diet
The American Heart Association (AHA) advocates eating fatty fish at least twice (two servings) every week. Each recommended serving consists of 3.5 ounces cooked fish, or about ¾ cups of flaked fatty fish. Fish like mackerel, salmon, lake trout, herring, sardines and albacore tuna are examples of those high in omega-3 fatty acids. One serving of 3.5-ounce trout or one serving of a 3-ounce salmon contains about 1 gram of EPA and DHA.
Here are a few tips to enjoy the benefits of eating fish:
- It is better to bake, broil, steam or grill them instead of frying them in oil.
- Another way to prepare them is to microwave them for a few minutes so as not to dry them.
- Add flavor to your fish by choosing low-sodium and low-fat seasonings like lemon juice, spices, and herbs.
- Serve tuna flakes in wholegrain sandwich using low-fat mayonnaise or relish.
- Eat a variety of fish to avoid or minimize adverse effects associated with environmental pollutants.
- Avoid eating too much fatty fish, because they can also cause weight gain when taken in excess.
- Eat fish as part of a balanced diet which includes whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Some Precautions on Eating Fatty Fish
The AHA recommendations on eating fatty fish apply mostly to healthy people who want to avoid chronic disease. However, people who are known to have coronary artery disease may need more omega-3 fatty acids, in addition to about 1 g of EPA and DHA per day, preferably from oily fish. Patients who need to lower triglyceride levels may need 2 – 4 grams of EPA and DHA daily (as supplements) under a physician’s care.
Furthermore, one should be aware that some types of fish may carry high levels of mercury, dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls, and other environmental pollutants. Fish with the highest potential for contamination include shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish (golden snapper or golden bass).
Including fatty fish in the diet as a source of omega-3 fatty acids is a good way to lower cholesterol levels and prevent heart disease. To take advantage of its benefits one must choose a variety of fatty fish and sea food and follow recommendations in preparing and serving them. Finally, one should be aware of the dangers of eating too much fatty fish and the potential contaminants they may contain.