Oily fish such as salmon have the highest concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids
Fish is a superfood. Packed with vitamins and minerals, and a major source of omega-3 fatty acids, fish can help to protect against a range of diseases, from cancer to heart disease, depression to arthritis.
The benefits of eating fish
No wonder the Government wants us all to eat more, with the Food Standards Agency recommending at least two portions a week of fresh, frozen, or tinned seafood (one of them of oily fish). The British Heart Foundation says eating oily fish can help to reduce the risk of heart disease and improve your chances of survival following a heart attack. Fish does this by lowering levels of fats called triglycerides in the blood - raised levels are associated with heart disease. Fish oils also appear to help reduce blood clotting and abnormal heart rhythms after a heart attack.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids found in many fish may prevent damage to brain cells. Eating fish can also reduce the risk of high blood pressure, which is linked with dementia. A French study of 2000 people showed that those who ate seafood at least once a week had a significantly lower risk of dementia over a seven-year period than those who didn't.
A Swedish study of 6000 men over a 30-year period showed that those who didn't eat any fish had between double and treble the risk of developing prostate cancer, compared to those who ate moderate or large amounts. Shellfish, such as crab and lobster, also contains selenium, thought to have cancer-fighting properties.
It's been reported that fish can help to ease depression. Again, it's down to omega-3 fatty acids, which are believed to raise levels of the brain chemical serotonin.
Population groups that eat a lot of fish - Inuits in Greenland, for example - have low rates of inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. Studies have also shown fish oils to be useful in relieving the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
According to research carried out in Mauritius, children given lots of fish from the age of three are less likely to have criminal records by the time they reach 23.
According to dermatologist Nicholas Perricone, author of The Perricone Prescription, a salmon-packed diet can help smooth out age lines.
Which fish to eat
- White fish like cod are a good source of low-fat protein and minerals.
- Oily fish such as sardines, pilchards, salmon and mackerel have the highest concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Crab, lobster and mussels come into the shellfish group and contain selenium, thought to have cancer-fighting properties.
We have a wide range of fish recipes available online.
What about fish oil capsules?
Fish oil capsules can be a useful addition to a healthy diet. Research has found that taking a single fish oil capsule daily could save the lives of 10,000 heart failure patients a year. That’s the claim from doctors following a review of studies into treatment with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Professor Martin Cowie says "The important point here is that a lot of people will have read about fish oil being good for you and think that they can go to their local shop and buy any old cod liver oil capsules. But the form of the medicine given in these studies is a highly concentrated, highly purified form of fish oil, called Omacor.
"I use it in my practice, lots of doctors do, but not all." You can ask your GP to prescribe it for you if you have heart problems. You can also ask your pharmacist, who will probably need to ask you a few questions about your medical history, to make sure this treatment is appropriate for you. If you do take this route, make sure to tell your doctor that you are taking it, and don’t stop taking existing medicines unless you have first discussed it with your doctor.
"This medication is a reasonable way of spending money in the Health Service," said Professor Cowie. "Not only is it effective clinically, it’s cost effective." Omacor capsules cost the NHS about 50p per patient per day. Bought from your local pharmacy they will probably cost around £15 for a month’s supply.
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