The Benefits of Fish Fat
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The Benefits of Fish Fat

fish and man Catfish, tuna, salmon, cod...there are many fish in the sea and each one is a healthy complement to any diet. In addition to being a great source of protein, fish is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a healthy type of fat. With so many varieties of fish to choose from, people should have no trouble eating the two servings of fatty fish per week recommended by the American Heart Association.

The Skinny on Fish Fat

Fish bulk up on omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids by consuming plankton and other plants. These fatty acids and their health benefits are then passed on to people who eat fish regularly. The main benefits of marine omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA, stem from their heart protective and anti-inflammatory properties.

Fish and its omega-3 fatty acids are thought to protect the heart in several ways. First, they lower triglyceride levels, which reduces heart disease risk. Second, they may decrease the risk of arrhythmia, an abnormality in the rhythm of the heart that causes sudden death.

A third way that fish may help the heart is through anti-thrombotic action, which simply means reducing the blood's tendency to clot. Although blood-clotting is a life saving process in response to a cut or similar trauma, excess blood clots can stick to the walls of blood vessels and contribute to the clogging that occurs with atherosclerosis. By decreasing the tendency to clot, omega-3 fatty acids make blood thinner and able to flow more easily, which in turn decreases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Fish is also an important part of a heart healthy diet because it is low in fat overall, and when eaten in place of fattier cuts of meat, healthy omega-3 fatty acids replace unhealthy saturated fats.

Help for Joints, Too

The anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help people lower the overall inflammation level in their body. Inflammation is caused by many things, including stress hormones, which people have plenty of. Omega 3 fatty acids also help people with rheumatoid arthritis. Specifically, they can ease the joint pain associated with this condition, though they are not thought to slow down the progression of the disease. Omega-3 fatty acids may also be helpful in the related autoimmune disease lupus, as well as depression.

Table: Selected fish and their omega-3 fatty acid contents

Type of fishAmount of omega-3 fatty acids in a 4-ounce serving
Chinook salmon3.6 grams
Sockeye salmon2.3 grams
Albacore tuna2.6 grams
Mackerel1.8-2.6 grams
Herring1.2-2.7 grams
Rainbow trout1.0 grams
Whiting0.9 grams
King crab0.6 grams
Shrimp0.5 grams
Cod0.3 grams

Choosing and Preparing Fish

To insure the fish you buy is fresh, follow these guidelines:

  • If you can, buy from markets that display fish inside glass cases, unwrapped, and on ice.
  • Don't buy prewrapped fresh or frozen fish if there are any breakages in the package.
  • Smell fish before you buy it. If fish is fresh, it won't smell "fishy."
  • When buying a whole fish, check for yellowing along the cut line, which indicates deterioration. A fresh whole fish will have bulging eyes, firm flesh, and a light, almost translucent color.
  • When buying prepared fish dishes from deli or gourmet departments never buy cooked fish if it's displayed next to raw fish because bacteria can be transferred from the raw to the cooked fish.

Broiling, baking, microwaving, grilling, poaching, and steaming are all suitable cooking methods for fish. The natural flavors of fish make preparation simple; often just a brush of olive oil and some seasoning is all you need.

RESOURCES:

American Dietetic Association
http://www.eatright.org

American Heart Association
http://www.americanheart.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
http://ww2.heartandstroke.ca

Health Canada
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/index_e.html

References

Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health. Available at: http://dietary-supplements.info.nih.gov.



Last reviewed February 2008 by Dianne Scheinberg MS, RD, LDN

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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