The US Food and Drug Administration tells us that fish is an important part of a healthy diet, particularly oily fish. Why oily fish? What are the health benefits of oily fish and how much should we eat? All fish and shellfish consist of high-quality protein and are low in saturated fat. They also provide essential minerals such as iron, zinc, iodine and selenium. Oily fish contains a much higher proportion of omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids than other fish, and it’s this substance that is good for us.
Which fish are “oily fish”?
Salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, pilchards, herring, kipper, eel and whitebait are the major oily fish. It doesn’t matter whether they are fresh, canned or frozen; they will still provide the essential omega 3 fatty acid. Fresh tuna is also an oily fish, but, once it has been canned, it loses its high nutrient value and is regarded the same as non-oily fish.
Why is oily fish good for us?
There have been numerous studies on the health benefits of omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acid. Scientists have discovered that it is vital for human health. Omega 3 is an anti-inflammatory agent and helps make the blood less likely to clot. This helps in diseases such as cardiovascular disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and cancer, and may prevent these diseases from taking hold in the first place.
Omega 3’s anti-inflammatory property is also a factor in anti-aging. You may have heard of Dr Perricone. He bases his diet on trying to decrease inflammation in the body. He believes this improves metabolism, lifts the mood, strengthens the heart, decreases the risk of cancer, improves bone density, smooths away wrinkles, boosts the immune system and helps to lose weight. The mainstay of his diet is oily fish.
Oily fish is an important ingredient in the diet of pregnant women and children, and may be of help for those with low fertility. In pregnancy, omega 3 fatty acid is essential for the development of the nervous system in both the embryo and the newborn child. As children grow, omega 3 fatty acid is vital for their health and well-being. A number of recent studies have shown the importance of omega 3 in the development of a child’s brain and behavior. Notably, it is believed that including oily fish in the diet can modify the behavior of a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
How much oily fish should we eat?
The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) recommends that oily fish should be included in the diet at least twice a week, but no more than four times a week. However, pregnant or nursing mothers, or girls and women who might have a baby in the future, should only eat oily fish twice a week. Although, other fish may be eaten in addition to the oily fish allowance.
Why can’t we eat oily fish every day?
Unfortunately, our seas and rivers are polluted with dioxins and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), and residuals of these pollutants remain in the flesh of fish. The amount of dioxin and PCB is very small in oily fish and any negative effects are far outweighed by the positive effects. Mercury is also found in fish, and the FDA advises that no one should eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tile fish, as these contain high concentrations. The good news is that levels of dioxins and PBCs are falling in our rivers and seas, due to our greater awareness of the environment.
Oily fish, with its high concentration of omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, should form a regular part of all our diets. America, along with Japan, has the highest number of octogenarians in the world. If we are going to live a long life, let it be a healthy one too!