Health benefits of Omega-3’s and fish in your diet

Adding fatty fish into your diet isn’t only a great way to add lean protein to your diet, it’s also heart healthy.

Fish is a great food to build into your healthy eating plan. It is an excellent source of lean protein and is low in saturated fats, which you would find in other meat protein sources such as beef. This makes fish a great choice to aid in weight maintenance. There is another reason that fish is a good choice: it is high in Omega-3 fatty acids.

You may have heard this term and not really knew what it meant. Essentially, it is one type of a polyunsaturated fat – fats that are typically liquid at both room temperature and when chilled. Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids (another kind of polyunsaturated fat) are also called essential fatty acids, meaning that your body does not make them. The only way to get these fatty acids is from the foods you eat.

Omega-3 fatty acids and polyunsaturated fats in general are beneficial to your health. They help healthy people or those at high risk from developing cardiovascular disease. There are even heart-healthy benefits to those who have cardiovascular disease. Research has shown that a diet high in Omega-3 fatty acids reduces heart arrhythmias, which may cause sudden death. They also lower triglyceride levels, reduce plaques in the arteries as well as lower blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish twice a week, which would be about two 3.5 oz servings.

Some people may be hesitant to eat fish because of mercury and other environmental pollutants that may be present in the fish. However, most of the fish that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, lake trout, herring and sardines, are not the fish that contain high mercury levels. Those fish that have been found to contain high levels of mercury include shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. In general, the health benefits of eating fish outweigh the potential risks of possible contaminants. For pregnant women and children the recommendation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is to consume up to 12 ounces of fish and to avoid the fish known to have high mercury levels. If there is concern you should talk to your healthcare provider.

Fish can be a healthy choice, but you don’t want to negate the health benefits by preparing it in less-than-healthy ways. Cook fish by baking, broiling or grilling, not frying. Season the fish with fresh or dried herbs and spices instead of a lot of high-salt or high-fat seasoning and dressings.

Looking for more ways to add fish and other foods into your healthy eating plan? Contact a Michigan State University Extension expert in your area.

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