Fish is a key part of a healthy diet. Dietitians recommend two servings of 4 ounces or one serving of 8 ounces of fish per week, as a bare minimum. UnityPoint Health dietitian Elaine Kay Mitchell, MPH, RD/LD, CDE, explains the risks and benefits of eating fish, plus the five types best to add to your diet.
The Health Benefits of Fish
Eating fish is associated with the health benefits of lowering triglycerides, blood pressure, inflammation, macular degeneration and reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. It also provides a lean source of omega-3 fatty acids, proteins and minerals. Omega-3s are good fats your body can’t make itself. There are numerous health benefits of omega-3s, as they are known to help strengthen the mind and ease movement by the body. Some studies also suggest they reduce the risk of heart disease. Salmon, sardines, tuna, herring and trout are fish high in omega-3s. Haddock, tilapia, pollock, catfish, flounder and halibut are leaner fish. However, Mitchell suggests making sure to have a mix of both fatty and lean fish in your seafood diet.
Mitchell also suggests reaping the benefits of omega-3s from food rather than from supplements, like fish oils. Taken in pill form, fish oils can have side effects, like upset stomach and diarrhea. It can also interfere with allergies, blood thinners or cause vitamin A toxicity. If you’re considering taking a fish oil supplement, talk to your UnityPoint Health primary care provider.
Mitchell’s Top 5 Best Fish to Eat for Health
- Salmon (especially fresh water salmon or pacific salmon from Alaska)
- Rainbow trout
“Most people I see with diabetes diabetes have heard me strongly suggest salmon be part of their diet once a week because salmon nutrition helps in the prevention of macular degeneration,” Mitchell says.
That’s why it’s number one on her top five healthy fish selections. The other four selections are good sources of omega 3 fatty acids, easy to prepare and are available in most locations.
“If cost is not an issue, fresh yellow-fin tuna is the fish world’s answer to a steak. It is excellent and worth trying at least once,” Mitchell says.
The Risks of Eating Fish
The health benefits of a seafood diet outweigh the risks, which mostly have to do with preparation.
“Fish can contain salmonella and bacterium, which cooking will kill when the temperature of 145 degrees is obtained, and the fish is opaque and separates as flakes. Shellfish will open when cooked enough. Food borne illness may occur if fish is kept too long, stored improperly or undercooked,” Mitchell says.
There are some poisonous fish that are edible, such as blowfish and stonefish. Mitchell says when ingesting these fish, the preparation has to be done perfectly in order to not be deadly.
When it comes to the risk of eating raw fish, like sushi, there are some precautions. Mitchell says the source sushi comes from is extremely important. You’ll want to make sure it’s fresh and it’s been handled properly, or there is a risk of food poisoning.
Fish to Avoid When Pregnant
“Persons who are pregnant, who have a depressed immune system or who are very young or very old should not eat sushi because of the bacteria raw fish may carry. Freezing the raw fish before preparing it can prevent some problems, but not all,” Mitchell says.
Pregnant women should also avoid shark, King Mackerel, swordfish and tilefish due to their higher mercury content. Albacore tuna does have some mercury, but Mitchell says 8 ounces of albacore tuna per week is perfectly safe for pregnant women. All other seafood while pregnant is safe and should be a priority in an expectant mom’s diet because it has positive effects on the development of a child’s brain.
Introducing Kids to Fish
Most kids get their first taste of fish by eating fish sticks. However, frying and adding batter changes the fish from a lean protein into one that has fat. The nutrient value of fish is still the same, except for the added fat and calories. Mitchell suggests checking the fish nutrition facts on labels to see how much fish versus breading is in a portion. Fish sticks can easily be prepared at home with light batter.
“Children will eat more fish, if they get a chance to go fishing or see their parents choosing to eat fish,” Mitchell says.
For healthy ways to include fish in your diet, try these delicious seafood recipes:
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