Fish or no fish? For several years now, research has agreed that it’s a safe and healthy meal option that people should work into their diets.
To add to that, a new study by the American Heart Association is supporting this conclusion.
The AHA’s report, which was published in the journal Circulation in May, underscores the importance of eating fish for its many health benefits.
This update was much-needed since the last review for AHA’s guidelines on fish happened over a decade ago.
The report states that people should eat from this food group several times throughout the week, “especially when seafood replaces the intake of less healthy foods.”
Are the researchers worried about the types of fish people might choose? No, they’re not.
The fact that people who choose this option are likely replacing fried foods, beef and highly saturated fats increases its benefits. Any risk here is minimal.
The Benefits of Eating Fish
Throughout the study, researchers found many positives about eating fish. The biggest benefit, especially for the Western world, is its effect on people’s heart health.
For instance, the review states that eating fish can result in a slower heart rate, lower risk for heart arrythmias and a lessened chance of sudden cardiac death.
Consuming fish oil may also lower blood pressure, although the evidence for this benefit was less clear.
Many of these benefits can be attributed to the omega-3s found in abundance in fish. When the researchers investigated a variety of trials on omega-3s, they found compelling data.
For one, those who ate one meal of fatty fish per week decreased their risk of sudden cardiac death by 50 percent. Eating the same amount of fish also reduced people’s risk of stroke by 14 percent.
To put that number in perspective, the AHA states that there were nearly 560,000 cases of sudden cardiac arrest in 2016. The majority of these happened outside the hospital with a low survival rate.
In addition, more than 795,000 people experience a stroke every year in the United States (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
These statistics are significant, and the review suggests that simple diet changes could reduce these heart-related cases.
Heart health benefits aside, fish has many nutrients to offer. It provides a good source of vitamins D, B2 and B12, calcium, phosphorus and a variety of minerals. As a plus, fish is also a great source of lean protein.
What About Mercury?
The researchers do address the question of mercury levels in their review. They acknowledge the concern—many large predatory fish have high levels of mercury in them. These include shark, bigeye tuna, king mackerel, and swordfish.
To date, the biggest caution against these types of fish are that they can have a toxic effect on unborn and young children.
Researchers also observed from one Finnish study that men with lower levels of mercury did decrease their risk of cardiovascular disease. During the study, these men had also increased their consumption of omega-3s.
For men with higher mercury levels, however, the research didn’t show a significant effect. So while one group saw a positive effect with less mercury, the other saw little to no effect when they did consume it.
Based on this information, the paper concluded that the benefits of eating fish do still outweigh the risks.
What Are the Recommendations?
After reviewing a wide variety of studies, the researchers’ recommendations don’t deviate much from current AHA guidelines. People should still eat seafood 1-2 meals per week, especially seafood high in omega-3s.
They found that doing so decreases a person’s risk for ischemic stroke, sudden cardiac death and congenital heart defects (CHD).
That should be enough to make anyone motivated for more fish.