Fish as food: benefits and risks

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Overview

Scientists believe that fish is an important part of a healthy diet. Fish and seafood are important for health as they contain long chain omega-3 fats and are rich in nutrients such as vitamin D and selenium.

Fish and seafood are high in protein and low in saturated fats. There is strong evidence that the inclusion of fish or fish oil in the diet helps maintain healthy heart and blood vessels. An analysis of several studies indicate that the introduction of 60-90 grams of fatty fish (salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies and sardines) in the diet, for a week reduces up to 36% the risk of death from heart disease .

Fish as part of the diet, can fight against heart disease in several ways. Omega-3 fish protects against the development of heart rhythm disorders. They help lower blood pressure, heart rate, improve blood vessel function, while higher doses can lower triglycerides level and reduce inflammation. There are both strong and consistent evidence for these benefits, this being the reason for which experts recommend that all people eat fish at least twice a week.

Unfortunately, quite a few people keep in mind these tips. Some do not like fish, and in others, the low consumption of fish is caused by perceptions about the cost, difficult access to stores that sell fish and uncertainty about how to prepare and cook it. Others are afraid of the reactions on the body of mercury, pesticide residues, toxins that may be present in seafood and fish.


Contents

1. Overview
2. Benefits and risks
3. Recommendations


Benefits and risks

Benefits and risks of fish and seafood

- Known or probable benefits – After some research, it was found that people who consume about 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per week found in more than equivalent to one or two servings of fatty fish served in a week, can reduce more than one third chance of dying from heart disease. It was also shown that omega-3s from fish are important for optimal development of a child’s brain and nervous system. Still you should learn that the child of future mothers who consume smaller amounts of fish or omega-3 during pregnancy and lactation, can suffer from delayed development of the brain;

- Possible benefits – Eating fish once or twice a week can reduce the risk of stroke, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and other chronic diseases;

- Possible risks – Many pollutants factors are found in the foods we eat from the fruits, vegetables, eggs and meat. Unfortunately, fish is no exception. The most important contaminants are biphenyls, mercury, dioxins and pesticide residues. High levels of mercury can affect the nervous system of adults and can disrupt brain development and the nervous system in a fetus or child.

Currently there are controversial about the small amounts of mercury that are found in fish. These were related to subtle changes in nervous system development and possible increased risk of cardiovascular disease. If we talk about polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxins, things are not so clear.


Recommendations

Avoid fish is definitely a way to avoid mercury or other harmful substances that sometime can be found in fish meat, such polychlorinated biphenyls. But this is not the wisest choice, considering the benefits of fish consumption.

Experts could draw the following conclusions from analyzes:
- If 100,000 people would eat salmon raised in a loft, twice a week for 70 years, the extra intake of polychlorinated biphenyls may cause 24 deaths from cancer, but might avoid at least 7000 deaths from cardiovascular causes.
- Polychlorinated biphenyls and levels of dioxins in fish are very small, similar to those in meat, dairy products and eggs.
- More than 90% of the amount of polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxins can be assimilated from other dietary sources, including meat, dairy, eggs and vegetables.

Given these limited negative effects on health, low levels of polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxins in fish should not influence a person’s decision regarding fish consumption. However, if they eat freshwater fish caught by family or friends should consult local authorities about the amount of fish that should be consumed. In commonly consumed amounts of fish, there are limited and conflicting evidence on the effects of mercury in adults. These are insufficient to recommend limiting fish consumption given the human cardiovascular system benefits. In fact, the easiest way to avoid concerns about contamination is to eat certain types of fish and seafood.

With the exception of some species of fish, most of them are recommended for pregnant women. High intake of mercury appears to prevent infant brain development, while low intake of omega-3 fats is just as dangerous. A large study involving more pregnant women, the newborns of mothers who ate less than two servings of fish per week had equally good results on tests of intelligence, behavior and development as well as those born of mothers who ate fish at least twice a week.

Several studies related to the intake of fish or fish oil during pregnancy and lactation, demonstrated health benefits to mother and child brain development.

In conclusion if the future mothers would avoid eating fish, this could damage baby’s brain development. The healthiest approach for women who are pregnant or wish to become mothers or nursing infants is to eat two medium servings of fish per week, various seafood, white fish, canned tuna and avoid four species of fish with a high content of mercury (shark, swordfish, tilefish, mackerel).

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