Whenever the experts whip a “best of” list of foods, you can bet that fish will swim its way to the top.
Fish is a great source of bioavailable, high-quality protein – and it’s easy to digest. Research shows that the omega-3 fatty acids found in some fish has health-promoting powers that can potentially protect our immune, nervous and cardiovascular systems.
Populations whose diet includes generous amounts of “fatty fish” – such as mackerel, sardines, wild salmon and herring – are considered healthier. A number of studies have shown that diets high in omega-3s are linked to lower risk for depression, asthma, ADHD and Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
A recent study showed that postmenopausal women with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids had a lower risk for hip fractures.
So, what are these omega-3 fatty acids… and why do we need to eat them? In simple terms, omega-3s are essential unsaturated fats that the body needs to perform normally.
Omega-3s are considered “essential’” because our body cannot make them from other substances, so we need to get them from food or dietary supplements. The main source of beneficial EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids is fish, especially fatty fish. The term fatty fish includes anchovies, mackerel, herring, wild salmon, sardines, tuna and lake trout.
Some plant foods contain AHA, which is converted into omega-3 fatty acids. The best plant sources include flax and flaxseed oil, walnuts, canola oil and chia seeds.
Recently scientists found that a non-fish oil DHA omega-3 fatty acids supplement DOES NOT show the same blood pressure-lowering effect – and may even diminish the health benefits from natural DHA from fish oil. So, if you are taking fish-oil capsules because you want to enjoy the benefits of fish oil without eating fish you may want to research further.
Eating fish is obviously the ticket to a healthier weight and better health. Most fish are remarkably low in saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, and are also potent sources of vitamins B-12, A and D.
Keep in mind the savvy dieter’s motto: eat your fish baked, broiled, grilled or poached. Frying fish adds countless fat calories to your healthy diet, so cook it right – and light – and keep the sauces on the side.
The bottom line: eating fish frequently and choosing a variety of fish helps keep you healthy.
Susan Burke March is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, who as chief nutritionist for eDiets promotes the dietary health and wellbeing of consumers worldwide.