Feed on fish and keep fit

26 Nov, 2003 10:00 PM
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A VARIETY of health gains have been correlated to a high consumption of fish.

All evidence collected shows the effects of fish intake on health to be extremely positive.

Not one finding has shown negative effects, except for a very small minority that are allergic or at risk due to mercury content.

The extent of evidence and benefits are variable for different health disorders, however the active ingredient in all cases is omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. This is found in most fish species and concentrated fish oil capsules.

p Vascular disease

Evidence is most convincing for vascular disease that causes heart attack and stroke.

The reduced risk comes from eating only two to three fish meals per week.

It has been revealed to successfully reduce blood triglycerides and blood clotting in numerous people, but has shown little effect on LDL (undesirable cholesterol).

p Asthma

There is also a significant protective result from fish and fish oils on asthma prevention. However, these effects are mainly biochemical rather than clinical, so there is marginal benefit from fish oil supplements.

p Rheumatoid arthritis

It has been claimed that eating fish regularly can improve the symptoms of arthritis, however it is really only useful for those suffering intolerances to anti-inflammatory medication. Very large doses of omega-3 fatty acids are required and this is not a realistic achievement through diet alone.

p Cystic fibrosis

It has been discovered that positive effects on this condition are achieved through use of supplements. However, further research needs to be carried out before supplements are actually prescribed to cystic fibrosis patients.

p Hormone related cancers ‹ breast cancer, prostate cancer

The latest animal and lab tests have shown positive results for marine fatty acids on these types of cancer.

Further population research needs to be undertaken, as some areas still remain unclear.

Current population research has found that people living in countries with oily fish species have additional protective benefits and are at lower risk of developing breast cancer.

p Eyesight

Regular fish consumption has been shown to be highly beneficial in preventing degeneration of eyesight in people aged over 50 years.

p Brain and nerve tissue

Certain omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for healthy brain and nerve tissue.

The effects on nerve tissues are more substantial during early development.

Therefore it is often recommended that fish be eaten during pregnancy and in early years of childhood. Consumption during pregnancy does need to be watched though, and no more than four fish meals per week are advised.

The high mercury content of some fish can have negative effects on the baby's nervous system and development. Mercury is not known to harm the mother though.

Swordfish, shark, and barramundi, or any other species at the top of the food chain, are those to steer away from if pregnant. Canned tuna and salmon can be eaten as often as desired.

p Mental Disorders

Further research is necessary on the effects of fish on Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia and Attention Deficit Disorder. At this stage, evidence is looking very positive.

p Fat content

The fat content of fish actually varies with the type of fish and season. The general rule is that whiter fleshed fish are leaner.

Examples are dhufish, snapper, bream and whiting.

Oily fish such as herring, salmon, tuna and sardines are higher in fat.

Do not let this put you off, as the content of fat in any type of fish is lower than most other foods, and mainly in omega 3 polyunsaturated forms.

p Processed or fresh?

Frozen and fresh fish provide equal nutritional value.

Edible bones provide more calcium, pickled fish contain more salt, canned tuna and salmon provide more omega 3 fat.

p Other seafood

Contrary to well-publicised views, other types of seafood such as molluscs and crustaceans are NOT high in cholesterol.

Prawns may have slightly more than other types but they are very low in fat, so can be safely included in a low fat diet regime.

Seafood such as crayfish, oysters, and scallops provide similar health benefits to fish but the omega 3 fatty acid content is lower.

As a consequence of substantial amounts of research in all of the various areas, benefits appear to be greatest from eating oily fish, with little benefit in fish oil capsules.

These benefits can occur from eating as little as one fish-based meal per week. This may be a tuna and salad roll for lunch, or a serving of grilled dhufish with steamed vegetables for dinner.

So if you are on a new health kick, why not include some fish in your diet?

Fish tastes great, is low in fat compared to red meat and chicken, can be cooked in endless ways, and most importantly, provides extensive health benefits for people of all ages!

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