For a heart-healthy diet, go fish!

October 25, 2010

Eating fish can be good for the heart

Adding fish to the menu is one of the easiest, smartest things you can do to make your diet healthier.

A report by the staff of experts on MayoClinic.com says that if you want to avoid heart disease, or if you already have it and want to get healthier, eating one to two servings of fish a week could reduce your risk of dying of a heart attack by a third or more.

What makes fish such a healthful food?

Fish is high in protein and low in saturated fat, the kind of fat that is bad for you. Fish is also a good source of vitamins and minerals. Best of all, many types of fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids can help lower the level of unhealthy fat in the blood. They also help slow the growth of plaque, a substance that can build up and block blood vessels. That may lower the risk for heart attacks and strokes. Omega-3 fatty acids can even slightly lower blood pressure.

Which fish are highest in omega-3 fatty acids?

The American Dietetic Association tell us that oily fish like albacore tuna, mackerel, salmon, sardines, and Atlantic herring have high levels of this healthful nutrient.

How much fish should you eat?

The American Heart Association says it's a good idea to eat fish, especially the ones that have heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, at least two times a week.

What about stories of fish being high in mercury?

Some types of fish may have high levels of the metal mercury or other dangerous chemicals because of the water they swim in and the food they eat. The American Heart Association suggests not eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA) says that children and pregnant or nursing women should not eat those fish with the highest levels of mercury. However, the USDA also says you should eat up to two servings per week of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.

Which seafood is lowest in mercury?

Health experts agree that mercury in some fish is NOT a reason to stop eating other fish and shellfish and enjoying how fish can be good for your health. Although some kinds of seafood have too much, others have very little. Five of the most often eaten fish or shellfish that are very low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, Pollock, and catfish.

How to shop for fish

The American Dietetic Association offers these tips for safety and the best taste when choosing fish:

  • Check the fish counter before you buy. Seafood should be shown with food safety in mind: well iced, well refrigerated and in clean cases.
  • Crabs, crayfish, and lobsters should be alive when sold, unless they are frozen, canned, or cooked. When buying cooked shrimp, lobsters, crabs, and crayfish, choose those that are moist with a mild odor and the right color. The shells of cooked shrimp should be pink to red, while those of other shellfish should be bright red.
  • For safety, don't buy cooked seafood that is placed next to raw seafood. Germs from the raw fish can get on the cooked fish and make you sick.

Skip the fryer

The American Heart Association reminds you to enjoy your fish baked or grilled, not fried. You can make fish a tasty part of your diet when you choose low salt and low fat seasonings such as spices, herbs, lemon juice, and other flavorings in cooking and at the table.

If you'd like to learn more, the American Heart Association Web site has a helpful section called Fish 101.

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