There are few foods on the planet that can boast as many health benefits as fish. But despite its impressive resume, most Americans aren’t eating enough of it regularly. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, about one third of Americans eat seafood once a week, while nearly half eat fish only occasionally or not at all. It’s unclear why we aren’t eating enough, but what is clear is that fish can work wonders for our health. Let’s take a look at the reasons why we should be eating more fish.
Fish, especially salmon and tuna, is a nutritional powerhouse. It is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which studies have shown can help decrease hunger and aid in weight loss. Omega-3s also help reduce cortisol, a hormone that promotes abdominal weight gain and increased appetite. Abdominal, or “belly,” fat is a major health concern because it contributes to chronic inflammation, which is at the root of many chronic diseases.
Seafood also offers high levels of lean protein, which is a powerful tool in weight loss. Not only does protein promote the muscle mass growth, but it also plays a role in keeping hunger pangs away. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that protein increases satiety to a greater extent than carbs and fats. These increased feelings of fullness can help better manage hunger and prevent overeating. On top of that, fish is low in calories, making it a great option when looking to cut calories as part of a weight loss or maintenance program.
The positive health impact from eating fish extends far beyond appetite and weight loss. Here are a few more reasons to add it to your plate:
Improves heart health. The two leading causes for premature death in the US are heart attacks and strokes. There are many studies that have shown eating fish regularly reduces risk of stroke, heart attacks, and may reduce risk of death from heart disease by 36 percent. In fact, these types of outcomes are prevalent in countries with high levels of fish like Japan. The Omega-3 fatty acids in fish help improve blood vessel function and lower blood pressure; both key contributors to a healthy heart.
Reduces risk of depression. Growing research shows Omega-3 fatty acids may help mental health. Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States, affecting about 15 million Americans. Studies have shown Omega-3 fatty acids modify the activity of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which are thought to be involved in depression.
Combats Alzheimer’s disease. Eating fish on a regular basis may help improve brain health. The risk of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, doubles every five years after the age of 65. For those who are overweight or obese, the risk is significantly greater. A 10-year study by the Radiological Society of North America found that regular fish consumption reduced risk of Alzheimer’s five-fold.
While consuming fish is generally a sound choice for weight loss and good health, there are some notes of caution:
- All fish contain traces of mercury. For most people who eat fish, the mercury levels pose little risk. However, some fish, like shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish contain high levels of mercury that may be harmful. And pregnant women should avoid high-mercury level fish altogether to protect their child’s health and development.
- Watch out for seafood allergies, particularly for shellfish such as shrimp, clams, or mussels.
There is a great variety of seafood to choose from and most recipes are easy to prepare. If the taste isn’t for you, consider taking a fish oil supplement so you can enjoy the same benefits as seafood eaters.