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Fish Facts for Heart Health

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Plated salmon filet on asparagus

Fish is an important part of a healthy diet. Fish and other seafood are great sources of protein and are low in saturated fat. They are also a major source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids and rich in other nutrients such as vitamin D and selenium. Research has shown omega-3 fatty acids can positively affect your heart health in several ways:

  • Decrease arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeats)
  • Decrease triglyceride levels
  • Slow the growth of atherosclerotic plaque
  • Lower blood pressure and heart rate slightly
  • Improve blood vessel function

According to the latest 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans research has shown that diets that include seafood are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and could also be associated with a lowered risk of obesity.

Fish Recommendations

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends having at least two servings of fish a week, or about eight to twelve ounces. American Heart Association (AHA) encourages fish intake be mostly fatty fish because they contain the highest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Examples of fatty fish include:

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Sardines
  • Herring
  • Lake trout

Incorporating at least two servings per week of these types of fish lowers your risk of heart disease and is related to a 50 percent reduced risk of heart attack.

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the omega-3s found in fish and seafood.  AHA recommends approximately 1 g of EPA + DHA daily for people with heart disease.

Amount of Omega-3 in Fish (6 oz. cooked unless otherwise noted)

  • Salmon, Atlantic, farmed – 3.7 g
  • Herring – 3.5 g
  • Salmon, Atlantic, wild – 3.1 g
  • Rainbow trout, farmed – 2.0 g
  • Anchovies, canned, boneless (3 oz.) – 1.8 g
  • Oysters, Pacific (6 oysters) – 1.8 g
  • Sardines packed in oil (3 oz.) – 1.2 g
  • Halibut – 0.8 g
  • Snapper – 0.6 g
  • Pollock/Sole/Flounder – 0.4 g
  • Light tuna canned in water (3 oz.) – 0.2 g

Pregnancy and Children

According to the FDA, pregnant women are encouraged to eat eight to 12 ounces (two to three servings) per week of a variety of fish and shellfish low in mercury. For example:

  • Canned light tuna
  • Salmon
  • Pollock
  • Catfish

It is recommended that children eat one to two two-ounce servings per week of fish or shellfish. Children and pregnant women should avoid eating fish with the potential for the highest level of mercury contamination (e.g., shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish). It is always encouraged to check local advisories about the safety of fish caught in local lakes, rivers and coastal areas.

Is There a Catch?

Consuming fish has a variety of benefits yet so many people are not taking advantage of them. According to a study by the U.S. Agricultural Research Services, approximately 80 to 90 percent of Americans do not eat the recommended amounts of fish.

If you are hesitant to incorporate fish into your diet due to safety, budgetary or culinary concerns here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Various pollutants can make their way into our lakes, oceans and rivers and inevitably into the fish we eat. The contaminants that are of most concern are mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins and pesticide residues. Fish absorb and store these substances. Typically, the levels of these substances are highest in older, larger, predatory fish and marine mammals. Eating a variety of fish will help minimize any potentially adverse effects due to environmental pollutants.
     
  • The FDA and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency created an easy-to-reference chart that puts fish into three categories:

    1. Best choices (recommended eating two to three servings weekly) - Nearly 90 percent of the fish eaten in the U.S. fall into this category

    2. Good choices (recommended eating one serving weekly)

    3. Fish to avoid
     
  • Fish can be incorporated into any budget. There are several economical options like buying canned, frozen, or seasonal and local seafood.
     
  • You don’t have to be an amazing chef to prepare a delicious fish dish. Some of the easiest ways to prepare it are baking, broiling or grilling. Fish pairs nicely with freshly-squeezed lemon and lots of spices and herbs such as basil, dill, rosemary.

Supplements

It is preferable to consume the recommended amounts of omega-3 fatty acids through foods. However, if you don’t eat fish, or have an increased need for omega-3, you may not be getting enough omega-3 through diet alone. You may want to talk to your doctor about omega-3 supplementation.

To schedule a one-on-one consultation or for more information on Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services, visit cooperclinicnutrition.com or call 972.560.2655.

Article provided by Mary Montgomery, MS, RDN, LD, and Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services.