Hey everyone, hope you enjoyed a wonderful weekend. I originally wanted to get this blog written last weekend so I could get it out in time for Ash Wednesday, knowing that with Lent a lot of people were going to be giving up meat. With meat typically being such a staple in our diets I wanted to help those people out by providing helpful information regarding a very healthy alternative, fish.
From salmon to tuna to trout, fish have been swimming onto the plates of health-conscious people for many years now. It's easy to understand why. Fish sits atop a long list of heart-healthy foods. While some nuts and green vegetables have heart-protecting properties, they really can't compare to fish in the heart-health sweepstakes.
Unlike beef, fish is low in artery-clogging saturated fat. Plus, the potassium, magnesium and niacin in fish help lower blood pressure and increase good cholesterol levels. The real treasure chest of wellness-boosting properties, however, is in the omega-3 fatty acids. These fish oils help the heart in a multitude of ways: They protect the arteries from damage by keeping platelets from sticking together, and they also increase good cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels, and prevent heart arrhythmias that can lead to sudden death. In a study of more than 3,000 people published in the May 2007 issue of "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition," researchers found that those who consumed about two and a half servings of fish per week had a 29 percent lower risk of life-threatening abnormal heartbeats than people who ate less fish.
Because of the overwhelming evidence of fish's heart-protecting properties, the American Heart Association recommends eating fish twice a week.
Not all fish are loaded with good-for-your-heart oils. Some lack sufficient omega-3s to protect your heart. Generally, cold-water fish have more heart-healthy fish oils than warm-water fish. Salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, Atlantic halibut and sardines are the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Catfish, pike, red snapper, trout and other warm-water dwellers aren't as friendly to your heart, because they have lower levels of omega-3s. Ocean fish also tend to be safer than lake fish, which are more likely to contain environmental pollutants.
Because children and unborn babies are especially vulnerable to mercury, the Food and Drug Administration advises children under age 12 and expectant mothers to avoid eating fish with the potential for high levels of mercury -- king mackerel, tilefish, shark and swordfish -- and to eat no more than 12 oz. per week of fish that are lower in mercury, such as salmon and canned light tuna.
It's a myth that all shellfish are bad for your heart. For years, it was thought that shellfish like lobster and king crab had high levels of cholesterol that could endanger the heart, but recent studies show they contain no more cholesterol than chicken or lean meat.
Shrimp, however, is higher in this artery-clogging fat. One serving of shrimp has about three times the amount in a serving of lean beef. If you already have high cholesterol, you may want to steer clear of shrimp and have lower-cholesterol crab, lobster, clams or oysters instead. Crabs, lobster and clams are also rich in zinc, a trace nutrient needed for overall good health.
As demand for heart-healthy fish has increased, waters in some parts of the world have been overfished. The solution has been to grow fish in farms.
According to the World Health Organization, one-third of the world's fish supply comes from fish-farm operations. This trend has brought down the price of fish, but it may not be a good thing when it comes to your health.
Farmed fish are raised in water-filled pens, where they are less active and eat mass-produced food. Wild fish, on the other hand, are much more active as they seek out prey, and that prey is more nutritious than the food that farmed fish eat. Wild fish tend to be leaner and have higher amounts of omega-3 oils. They may also be safer. A 2003 report from the Environmental Working Group stated that farmed salmon contained five to 10 times the amounts of the toxic environmental chemical PCB as wild salmon.
So if all you can find is farm-raised fish, which must be labeled as such in grocery stores, should you avoid eating fish altogether? Most experts say no. Studies support that the benefits of eating fish outweigh any potential risks. To reduce potential exposure to contaminants, however, the American Heart Association suggests removing the skin and surface fat before cooking.
The bottom line everybody? If you want to do your heart some good, go with fish! During this holiday season and beyond, I hope the information available here proves to be helpful for all of you.
Best in health and wellness,
- Science Daily: Mounting Evidence of Fish Oil's Heart Healthy Benefits
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Omega-3 fatty acids