Some people consider fish a he althy alternative to red meat. It is a good source of protein, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, as well as several minerals and vitamins. Omega-3 fatty acids, which research shows can have a positive effect on heart he alth, are present in high concentrations in fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel, writes medicalnewstoday.com.
Research shows that these fatty acids can also boost blood flow to the brain, which is vital for delivering the oxygen needed for brain function. One study suggests that omega-3s may have a role in he althy brain aging. Eating fish can also help fight inflammation: a recent study found that regular fish consumption helps reduce the incidence of chronic inflammatory conditions and may even benefit the immune system.
However, there are concerns about high levels of mercury in some of the cold water fish. Suitable types of fish with high concentrations of beneficial fatty acids and low levels of mercury are wild salmon, sardines, rainbow trout and mackerel. And what about white fish and shellfish?
Lower in calories than oily fish, they do not contain high levels of omega-3, but are a good source of protein and many minerals and vitamins such as iron, zinc and vitamins A, B12 and D. Therefore, it is recommended to take fish 2-3 times a week, but it is good to change the types you consume.
Is wild caught fish better?
Shocking images of waste, environmental pollution from inadvertently catching fish or marine species including marine mammals, turtles and seabirds have led many to question whether the he alth benefits of fish and seafood are worth the environmental expenses.
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) regulates fisheries in Great Britain, and organizations such as Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch fulfill a similar role in the United States. The MSC refutes the claim that there is no such thing as sustainable fishing, outlining three principles for it: sustainable fish stocks, minimizing environmental impact and effective fisheries management.
The MSC states that "fish stocks can recover and replenish if managed carefully over the long term". Their website includes a list of fish that are sustainable when they carry the MSC label. In the US, the Washington, D. C.-based Environmental Working Group (EWG) goes further, giving a regularly updated list of fish that are he althy in terms of pollutant levels and correspondingly beneficial to he alth. Similar information is listed in the US Government's Fishwatch.
What is the alternative?
An obvious alternative to wild caught fish is fish farming or aquaculture. There are no bycatch issues, fish are cheaper to buy, delivery is more reliable and there is less effect on wild habitats. But is farmed fish as good for us as ocean-caught?
It comes down to how the farmed fish are fed. Farmed salmon, for example, can have about 40% more calories than wild salmon and about 50% more fat - which is quite a difference. There is also a greater risk of contaminants in farmed fish that live in small enclosed pens, as well as exposure to antibiotics from the farms' attempts to prevent disease. There is also concern about the food these farmed fish eat.
One way to minimize this pollution is by combining different types of aquaculture, as outlined in a 2020 report.by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). If fish farmers grow an extractive species, such as filter-fed clams, near the clam pens, they remove waste from the water. And these bivalves are nutrient-dense, low-mercury seafood in their own right. And fish farming organizations are looking for alternatives to fish-based feed, such as soybeans, canola and algae, that provide the omega-3s that marine life needs.
Fish is the best source of DHA and EPA. Other seafood, such as seaweed, is an option, and omega-3s are also found in beef and eggs from chickens that have flaxseed in their diet.
So should we eat fish? The nutrients in fish are important, but it's possible to get them elsewhere. The key to a he althy lifestyle is to ensure that your diet is varied.
Research shows that diets that include the he althy fats found in the Mediterranean diet are associated with positive he alth outcomes. Aim for a whole foods diet whenever possible. As for fish dishes - preferably cold water fatty fish as part of your he althy menu.