Fish has a reputation for being low calorie, high protein “brain food,” thanks to the long strands of polyunsaturated essential omega-3 fatty acids (popularly referred to as “omega-3s”) found in fish oil.
The human body can’t naturally produce omega-3s, but yet they’re needed for a healthy body, inside and out. Although the link between omega-3s and heart health has long been known, several new studies present even more evidence that fish high in fatty acids is essential for total-body wellness.
The good news is if you’re not a fish fan, most new research indicates that eating fish only once or twice a week can be enough to reap the benefits. Meanwhile, the National Institute of Health recommends that people consume at least 2 percent of their total daily calories as omega-3 fatty acids, which equals about 4 grams per day. One four-ounce piece of salmon (one of the highest natural sources of omega-3s) contains about 1.5 grams of the fatty acid. Other fish, such as tuna, sardines, and halibut, also contains high levels. If you don’t eat animal products or have trouble fitting fish into your diet, you can get your daily recommended amount of fatty acids through omega-3 DHA/fish oil supplements. Although new data from Consumer Reports suggests that more Americans are buying omega-3 supplements than ever before, the doctor-recommended way to consume the health benefits of fish is still by eating the real thing.
If the heart-health-boosting, waist-slimming properties weren’t reasons enough to eat more fish, here are seven more ways adding a dose of fish to your diet can improve your health.
- Prevent Heart Disease: A Danish study of 49,000 women that was published Monday in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association found that women who ate little to no fish had 50 percent more heart problems than those who ate fish at least once per week. Additionally, researchers found that women who rarely ate fish had a three-fold higher disease risk than those who ate it often. Other research has found that eating fish high in omega-3s can slash blood fat levels, which can contribute to a lower heart-disease risk.
- Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk: Eating fish as little as once a week can help preserve gray-matter neurons — the part of the brain linked to memory and cognition — according to a new study presented last month at the Radiological Society of North America’s annual meeting. Researchers found that people who eat baked or broiled — but not fried — fish had larger brains and larger cells in the areas of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Scientists believe the larger brain volume can help lower the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Improve Skin and Hair: One of the biggest drawbacks to a low-fat diet is you often deprive your skin and hair of the healthy fat it needs, leaving it dull and dry. The omega-3s in fish are exactly the type of healthy fat to eat to keep your skin looking nourished and your hair shiny. Research has also linked fish and omega-3 consumption to treatment of skin conditions such as psoriasis.
- Ease Depression: Several studies have found that when taken along with prescription antidepressant medications, the omega-3s in fish are more effective at treating depression that just prescription medication alone. One study of 52 pregnant women found that taking a 300 mg capsule of omega-3s during pregnancy significantly reduced the women’s risk of postpartum depression.
- Boost Brain Development: The EFA omega-3 found in salmon and other nutrient-rich fish are essential nutrients for children because they contribute to brain development. Some studies have even found that omega-3 consumption can help soothe symptoms of ADHD. Experts recommend, however, that parents ask their pediatrician before introducing supplements to a child’s diet.
- Dose of Vitamin D: Saltwater fish is a sun-less source of vitamin D, which scientists say can help ward off disease, promote bone health, and with the help of the omega-3s in fish, ward off cognitive decline. Just one three-ounce serving of salmon contains 75 percent of your daily recommended amount of the vitamin.
- Stronger Sperm: A recent study of 188 men found that those who ate more fresh fish — along with other healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — had stronger swimmers than those who ate unhealthy diets. Researchers say that more study needs to be done, but preliminary data shows that the better the participant’s diet, the stronger the shape and mobility of the sperm he produced.
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