Fishing for Better Health: The Benefits of Fish and Other Food Sources High in Omega 3 Fatty Acids
by: Susan du Plessis
Spring is well under way and summer is fast approaching. It's
time for kids to take out their roller blades for carefree treks
down boardwalks and sidewalks. Dads will rummage through closets
for dormant baseball caps and to see if last year's uniform
still fits. If not playing ball he'll watch from the sidelines,
or from the comfort of his favorite chair. Moms, time to don old
jeans, stock up on sunscreen, and get out the fishing poles. You
heard me, ladies. Fishing poles! It's time to fight back!
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), stroke is the
third leading cause of death in women. Every year an estimated
97,000 American women will die as a result of stroke.
Statistically, every 53 seconds stroke will victimize someone in
America. Of an estimated 600,000 stroke victims each year about
160,000 die as a result. There is, however, an easy way to
drastically reduce these statistics.
Findings in a 14-year-long study of nearly 80,000 American women
indicate that eating a 3.5 ounce serving of fish, two to four
times a week, lowers stroke risk by 27 percent. The more fish
consumed, the more impressive the percentages. Although few
large-scale studies have examined this particular issue in men,
experts say there is no biological reason results of such
studies would differ.
The American Medical Association (AMA) published the study
results in their January journal, 2001. There is conclusive
evidence that consumption of fish high in omega 3 fatty acids
hold significant health benefits, including reduced thrombotic
infarction -- a type of stroke where a blood clot blocks an
artery in the brain, resulting in destroyed brain tissue. (Blood
clots are responsible for more than 80 percent of all strokes.)
Fish are a high source of omega 3 fatty acids, nutrients that
help prevent the formation of clots, or "platelet clumping."
They do this by making blood less "sticky." As a result, risk of
thrombotic stroke is lessened, as well as risk of embolic
stroke, where the clot forms elsewhere in the body before
traveling to the brain.
Conducted at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston,
Massachusetts, the study revealed that women who ate fish once a
week reduced stoke risk by 22 percent; two to four times a week
by 27 percent, and five or more times a week by 52 percent.
Unfortunately, the average American woman only consumes about
1.3 servings of any type seafood weekly, at an average of 3.5
ounces per serving. Women are not eating enough fish!
Penny Kris Etherton, Ph.D., a heart disease researcher at the
State University in Pennsylvania, has long extolled the virtues
of eating fish for health purposes. "I clearly tell people to
eat fish and shellfish regularly to lower the risk of heart
National Fisheries Institute (NFI) President, Richard E.
Gutting, Jr., agrees. "The benefits of eating fish continue to
mount as more studies are conducted," he noted. Gutting also
said that women of all ages "should enjoy the variety and great
taste of fish and seafood on a regular basis."
How the fish is prepared is important, as omega 3 fatty acids
can be destroyed by heat, air, and light. NFI recommends not
overcooking the meat and the use of low fat cooking methods:
baking, broiling, poaching, steaming, stir-frying, grilling, or
sautéing. Cook just until the point of doneness for maximum
benefit. Avoid deep-frying, as it not only destroys more omega
3, but also adds to the total fat content.
If eating fish isn't your cup of tea, you might try fish oil
supplements. Most experts do not advise the routine use of fish
oil supplements, however, for two reasons: 1.) possible side
effects -- fishy breath, gastrointestinal upset, and easy
bruising. 2.) a false sense of security derived from taking fish
oil for heath purposes, when the diet itself may be unhealthy.
Besides fish and fish oil supplements, other good omega 3 fatty
acid sources include canola oil, flaxseed oil, soybean oil,
certain nuts and vegetables, and tofu. However, one would have
to eat at least several times the normal amount of any of these
other sources to gain the same benefit from one regular size
serving of fish.
Institute of Food Technologist, Joyce Nettleton, D. Sc., R.D.
suggests that because eating fish alone won't compensate for
unhealthy eating habits, "fish and other shellfish should be
eaten as part of a low fat diet that includes plenty of fruits
Besides boasting stroke resistant benefits, the fatty acids of
omega 3 act as "health heroes" against hypertension, breast
cancer, and depression. Other benefits include: less chance of
developing heart disease, lower risk of heart attack even where
heart disease does exist, lower blood pressure, possible
improvement of kidney function in severe diabetes, and possible
improvement of certain inflammatory conditions such as
arthritis, psoriasis, and kidney disease.
In addition, nutrients found in healthy, uncontaminated fish
help to insure proper development of fetal brain, eye, and
nervous tissue during pregnancy. But, caution should be taken.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in a
recent consumer advisory, pregnant women should not consume
shark, swordfish, or king mackerel or should limit consumption
to not more than once a month.
These large predator fish could contain higher levels of methyl
mercury than the FDA limit for safe human consumption -- 1 part
per million (1ppm). Over consumption risks damage to the fetal
nervous system. Even fresh water predator species such as pike
and walleye have been found to have methyl mercury levels in the
While it's true nearly all fish contain trace elements of
mercury, larger, older and predator fish accumulate the highest
levels and pose the greatest threat, while younger fish caught
after only one season in polluted water have less. Even so, a
variety of fish and other seafood that offer a naturally low fat
source of protein can be an important part of a balanced diet
According to one FDA advisor, pregnant women can consume up to
12 ounces of cooked fish each week: shellfish, canned fish,
smaller ocean fish or farm raised fish. Farm raised rainbow
trout are most likely fed high protein foods containing a
combination of soy and fish meal which make them an even better
source of omega 3 fatty acid. Seven ounces of canned tuna can be
safely consumed each week by pregnant women and nursing mothers
if no other fish containing mercury is eaten.
Despite FDA warnings for pregnant women, the results of the
survey hold wonderful news, and women should be greatly
encouraged. We now have scientific proof that there is a
positive step available toward reducing the risk of stroke. Even
if you don't like fish, consuming just one 3.5 ounce serving one
or two times a month can reduce risk of stroke by 7 percent.
Certain kinds of fish are more beneficial than others. For
instance, because Alaska is relatively unpopulated there is
little industry to pollute the streams and ocean. Lack of
pollution combined with the earth's water and air circulation
patterns make Alaska's pristine waters, and consequently its
seafood among the cleanest in the world.
Numerous studies support this assertion. In 1998 the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did a survey of seafood
from the waters of Cook Inlet, located near Anchorage, Alaska.
Results indicate that fin fish and shellfish caught in Cook
Inlet were cleaner than any the EPA had ever tested. In
addition, plentiful Alaska Salmon, one of the richest natural
sources of omega 3 fatty acid available, are not among the
publicized "endangered" varieties of salmon.
Although light meat fish such as perch, flounder, and whiting
have only about 0.5 grams of omega 3 fatty acid per 4 ounce
serving, fish varieties with dark meat such as salmon, mackerel,
sardines, and bluefish contain roughly three times the amount of
protective stroke reducing omega 3 fatty acid. Fresh tuna,
striped bass, and rainbow smelt are also rich sources. So if
you're going to limit fish intake, a dark meat fish is your best
Whether for purposes of hobby or health, fishing is relaxing and
something the whole family can enjoy together. This fun "sport"
has the potential to enhance your health and your marriage.
So, go ahead! Get a fishing license, grab a pole, and hit the
shoreline. Eat "the fruits of your labor" five times a week to
reduce stroke risk by as much as 52 percent. Then brag about the
"big one" that got away!
About the author:
Visit Susan's website http://health.learninginfo.org for more
information on health, nutrition, longevity, beauty, fashion and