Can Consuming Fish Improve Your Heart Health?


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Fish is a staple in many of the world’s so-called healthiest diets such as the Mediterranean, Mind and Dash diets, and for good reason. It is a high quality source of protein and rich in nutrients such as vitamin D and vitamin B2 as well as many minerals. Fattier fish are also full of omega 3 fatty acids, believed to promote health and longevity.

Omega 3 fats have gained considerable attention in recent years due to their numerous health benefits such as supporting cardiovascular and brain health. These essential fats, meaning our bodies cannot make them and they must be obtained from certain food, are associated with lower risk of heart disease and cognitive decline, and prevention of heart attacks and strokes.

Numerous studies have confirmed the many benefits of consuming omega 3 fats including lowering triglyceride levels, a type of fat in the bloodstream associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Additionally, omega 3 can also help lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and prevent the formation of blood clots, all of which contribute to a healthier cardiovascular system.

Omega 3s can be divided into 3 different types: ALA, DHA and EPA. ALA is most commonly found in plant-based foods such as chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts, while DHA and EPA are found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and shellfish, as well as eggs. Our bodies require all 3 types of omega 3s to function optimally. While we can convert ALA into DHA and EPA, this conversion is quite low, and one would need to eat a very large amount of ALA in order to get enough DHA and EPA. Therefore, it is beneficial to obtain all omega 3 fatty acids from a wide range of sources.

Mackerel, salmon and sardines are amongst the highest sources and contain the lowest levels of mercury and other heavy metals as they are smaller fish and thus lower on the food chain. These small fish feed on algae which have a high concentration of omega 3. A 3 oz serving of these fish contains over 1 gram of omega 3. The recommended daily intake for the average adult is around 1-1.5 grams, so incorporating these fatty fish into your diet on a regular basis is a guaranteed way to reap the many benefits of omega 3 fats.

If you do not consume fish on a regular basis, you may be wondering about the potential of supplementation. As the popularity of omega 3 has increased, so have omega 3 supplements in various forms from fish oil and krill oil to plant based algal oil. The findings on the effects of supplementation are, however, fairly mixed. This likely stems from the differences across supplements such as delivery method, quality, concentration of DHA, EPA and ALA and current nutrition status. Consequently, relying solely on supplements is unlikely to provide the same benefits as consuming whole food sources. Specifically, as previously mentioned, supplements that contain only ALA will not directly provide the body with necessary DHA and EPA and the conversion to such is typically low.

While consuming adequate amounts of omega 3 is beneficial and will likely promote heart health, it should be consumed as part of an overall healthy diet and lifestyle with both seafood and plant sources. Sticking to the standard American diet and simply supplementing with omega 3 on its own cannot make up for a nutrient depleted diet or unhealthy lifestyle. Regular exercise, a minimally processed diet, stress management, abstaining from smoking and minimizing alcohol consumption are all important lifestyle factors that will also improve heart and brain health outcomes as well as overall health.

Fiona Riddle is a Certified Health Coach with a degree in Psychology from UCLA. She is passionate about a holistic approach to health when working with her private coaching clients. She is an avid cook, constantly creating and sharing new recipes on her Instagram (@feelgoodwithfi) to showcase simple clean home cooking.

This article was reviewed and approved by Emeran Mayer, MD