Here on the West Coast of Canada, every small town on our island seems to lay claim to the enviable title of “Salmon Fishing Capital of the World!” We do love our salmon. And crab. And halibut, red snapper and many other kinds of local seafood.
According to experts at Mayo Clinic, eating two servings of fish a week could actually help to reduce your risk of heart attack by as much as 30%. For adults, that serving size is 3 ounces (85 grams) or about the size of a deck of cards.
“Doctors have long recognized that the unsaturated fats in fish, called omega-3 fatty acids, appear to reduce the risk of dying of heart disease.”
Here’s why those omega-3 fatty acids in fish are so good for your heart: Fish – particularly fatty fish like salmon, herring and to a lesser extent tuna – contain omega-3 fatty acids, a type of unsaturated fatty acid that’s thought to reduce inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation in the body can damage your blood vessels and lead to heart disease.
Omega-3 fatty acids in fish may also:
- decrease triglycerides
- lower blood pressure
- reduce blood clotting
- boost immunity
- improve arthritis symptoms
- improve learning ability in children
Most freshwater fish contain less omega-3 fatty acids than do fatty saltwater fish, except for some varieties of freshwater trout that have relatively high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
Are there any fish to avoid eating? Both tilapia and catfish may not be as heart-healthy because they contain higher levels of unhealthy fatty acids. A Wake Forest University study published in July 2008 found, for example, that lower amounts of omega-3 and the higher ratios of omega-6 compounds found in farmed tilapia raise questions of the health benefits of consuming this fish. Always ask your grocer where and how this fish was caught. Avoid buying tilapia farmed in China or Taiwan.
But Mayo experts also add:
“Any fish can be unhealthy depending on how it’s prepared. For example, broiling or baking fish is a healthier option than is deep-frying.
“Some researchers are also concerned about eating fish produced on fish farms as opposed to wild-caught fish. Critics believe that antibiotics, pesticides and other chemicals used in raising farmed fish may have harmful effects to people who eat the fish.”
Does mercury in fish outweigh the health benefits? Mercury is one of the main types of toxins found in some fish, followed by dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The amount of toxins depends on the type of fish and where it’s caught. According to Mayo Clinic:
“Mercury occurs naturally in small amounts in the environment. But industrial pollution can produce mercury that accumulates in lakes, rivers and oceans, which turns up in the food that fish eat. When fish eat this food, mercury can build up in the bodies of the fish.
“Large fish that are higher in the food chain — such as shark, tilefish, swordfish and king mackerel — tend to have higher levels of mercury than do smaller fish. Larger fish eat the smaller fish, gaining higher concentrations of the toxin. The longer a fish lives, the larger it grows and the more mercury it can collect.”
Canada’s Heart and Stroke Foundation reminds us that all fish contains a small amount of mercury, which is acceptable for most people.
“However, some varieties can be a concern for pregnant and breastfeeding women and young children under the age of 12 because of their high mercury levels. They include tuna (Ahi, canned albacore and yellowfin), orange roughy, swordfish and seabass. It is suggested to either avoid eating these varieties or consume less than three servings per month.
Some fish with moderate levels of mercury include tuna (canned chunk light), snapper, halibut, cod and lobster. Try to consume these less than six servings per month.
“Opt instead for fish with low levels of mercury such as salmon, haddock, trout, herring, scallop and crab.”
Mayo Clinic experts still maintain that in general, the overall risk of getting too much mercury or other contaminants from fish is generally outweighed by the health benefits that omega-3 fatty acids have.
They add that in fact the scientific evidence is stronger for the benefits of eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids than for using omega-3 supplements. However, people who already have heart disease may benefit from supplements of omega-3 fatty acids and should discuss this with their doctors.
What other foods contain valuable omega-3 fatty acids? Other non-fish food options that do contain some omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, canola oil, soybeans and soybean oil. However, similar to supplements, the evidence of heart-healthy benefits from eating these foods isn’t as strong as it is from eating fish.
Q: What’s your favourite way to serve fish?
Here’s one of my easiest and most delicious healthy recipes:
Heart-Smart Salmon and Veggie Chowder
- 2 tsp canola oil
- 4 carrots, coarsely chopped
- 2 onions, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 4 stalks celery, thinly sliced
- (optional: one medium raw potato, diced small)
- 1 tbsp each chopped fresh thyme and dill (or 1 tsp each dried thyme leaves and dill weed)
- 1/2 tsp celery or fennel seed, crushed
- 4 cups homemade chicken stock or storebought sodium-reduced chicken broth
- 3 skinless wild salmon fillets, about 1 lb/454 g total (or you could substitute a can of no-salt-added canned wild salmon, any type)
- 1 c. low-fat plain yogurt
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- In a soup pot, heat oil over medium heat and cook carrots, onion, garlic, celery, thyme, dill and celery seed for about 10 minutes or until starting to lightly brown. (Add optional diced potatoes at this stage, too). Add stock and stir to combine. Bring to a gentle boil and add salmon into pot. Cook, stirring gently for about 10 minutes or until salmon flakes when tested with a fork. Break salmon apart slightly into chunks and reduce heat to medium low.
- Whisk together yogurt and flour and stir into soup until creamy and heated through. Makes eight cups (four servings).
Based loosely on an original recipe courtesy of the Heart and Stroke Foundation
Nutrition information per 2 c/500 ml serving
- Calories: 338
- Protein: 32 g
- Total fat: 16 g
- Saturated fat: 3 g
- Cholesterol: 67 mg
- Carbohydrate: 16 g
- Fibre: 2 g
- Sugars: 6 g
- Sodium: 187 mg
- Potassium: 1,164 mg