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Go Fishin’ for Healthy Fats

posted Feb 5, 2016, 6:39 AM by

In honor of American Heart Month, our February blog posts will focus on how you can tweak your diet to protect your heart. When it comes to heart healthy foods, fish is high up on our list. But what makes fish so great?

First off, fish contains mostly unsaturated fat and is low in saturated fat. There has been a bit of a controversy over the past few years about saturated fat and its impact on heart health, but the current evidence suggests that replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat lowers the risk of heart disease. This makes fish a great alternative to high saturated fat foods like fatty meats, cheese, butter, and cream.

Better yet, the particular kind of unsaturated fat that fish contains seems to be especially beneficial for heart health.  You may have heard the term “omega-3,” which refers to a particular group of unsaturated fats that have gotten a lot of press for their health benefits.  Of the three types of omega-3 fats, fish contains two, known by the acronyms EPA and DHA. EPA is closely linked to heart health, while DHA plays a role in brain development and has other health benefits. 

Fish is the best source of EPA and DHA omega-3 fats, but you can also get omega-3s from plant sources like chia seeds, ground flaxseed, seaweed, soybeans, canola oil, and walnuts. The body can convert the type of omega-3 found in these plant sources to EPA and DHA, but how much you are able to convert depends on a variety of factors. Nevertheless, these plant-based omega-3s may have health benefits all on their own, making them a good choice whether or not you eat fish. Check out this graphic to see how various types of fat including plant- and fish-based omega-3s measure up according to Harvard scientists.

If you do eat fish, you may be wondering which types are most beneficial and how much you should eat. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend at least 8 ounces of seafood per week for most Americans, although some groups including young children should eat less. When it comes to seafood, the best choices are those that are high in EPA and DHA, but lower in methyl mercury, a contaminant. These include salmon, anchovies, herring, shad, sardines, Pacific oysters, trout, and Atlantic and Pacific mackerel (not king mackerel, which is high in methyl mercury). For more on mercury in seafood, including who should be concerned and which types of fish should be limited, visit the FDA’s website.  

Fresh fish can be expensive, so consider incorporating canned fish into your diet to reap the health benefits without breaking your budget. Just be sure to read labels and choose products lower in sodium. Canned salmon is a great choice, and is delicious in our Lemon Herb Salmon Pasta Salad. Enjoy!