Savvy foodies are all about learning how to eat smart. Learning to incorporate foods that pack a lot of nutrition into your daily diet only makes sense. It starts by identifying what you need to eat more of, and what you need to eat less of. From there, you simply add foods that help you get what you need. Fish is one power food most people in the West eat very little of. In many cultures, fish and seafood are common staples, and the health benefits are often observable in those countries. When it comes to losing weight and eating healthier, few foods offer as many benefits as fish. Here are five important nutritional benefits fish offer that you probably need more of:
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Most people know fish is an excellent source of omega-3’s, and most people are also vaguely aware they probably aren’t getting enough. But did you know the reality is most people in the United States aren’t getting nearly the amount of omega-3’s they ought to be? Our bodies don’t produce these by itself1, so we have to rely on our diet to get this important nutrient. These incredible fatty acids offer a multitude of benefits to the body, including:
- Reducing risk of heart disease2
- Lowering cholesterol3
- Fighting depression
- Improving skin and hair health4
- Reduce inflammation in the body5
- Help in prenatal and postnatal neurological development
- Vitamin D
This is another nutrient we all know is important, but also don’t get enough of. In fact, almost 42% of the population is deficient. Like omega-3 fatty acids, our bodies don’t produce Vitamin D so we’re reliant on food and sunlight to get enough. While the sun is the most effective method for our bodies to absorb Vitamin D, fish is hands-down the best way to get it through our diet. According to one expert, just 3 ounces of salmon has 75% of the daily recommended amount of this vitamin.
For many Americans, it’s hard to get enough protein. Different types of fish offer different types of protein consumption. White fish (such as cod) are high-protein but low-fat. In fact, fish has the lowest fat content of any animal protein. Fattier fish (such as salmon) is high in healthy, polyunsaturated omega-3 fats while staying low in the unhealthy (and overabundant) omega-6 fatty acids.
- Fish Oils
The oils in fish are unbelievably nutritionally potent. Adding a supplemental dose of fish oil in addition to eating fish can really boost your health. For example, cod liver oil provides 200% of the daily recommended intake of Vitamin D. They can also decrease the symptoms of depression, postpartum depression in particular6. Children with ADHD also show improved thinking and cognitive skills7 when taking fish oil.
A diet rich in fish can help slow the aging process and keep you healthier as you age. One study showed a 42% decrease in macular degeneration due to eating fish on a regular basis. Another study indicates that fish helps increase grey matter in the brain, which in turn decreases the risk for degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. People who eat fish frequently have larger cells in the areas of their brain responsible for memory and learning. Because the omega-3’s in fish help with inflammation in the body, a diet rich in fish may help prevent rheumatoid arthritis.
Adding fish to your diet isn’t hard. Since many people in a traditional Western diet aren’t familiar with fish, here’s a quick jump-start guide to eating more fish:
- Pick your fish. As we mentioned, there are basically two categories of fish: fatty and white. Fatty fish is high in omega-3’s. Good examples of fatty fish are salmon, lake trout, sardines, herring, and tuna. White fish are low-fat, low-calorie, and high-protein. Good examples of white fish are cod, sole, and hake.
- Source your fish. Fresh and wild-caught fish are always a better alternative to farmed fish. There is potential for the presence of harmful antibiotics, chemicals, and pesticides in farmed fish.
- Buy your fish. You’ll get the most nutrition from fresh or frozen fish (so long as it was frozen without anything added), though fresh fish will almost always beat out frozen when it comes to flavor. Canned fish can also still be a good source of fish, just make sure to read your labels well to make sure there are no added ingredients. Fish canned in mineral water is better than fish canned in brine and oil. Smoked fish is good, too, just watch that the amount of sodium added.
- Cook your fish. The best ways to prepare fish and still get the nutrition is to bake, boil, or grill it. While frying will make it taste great (what doesn’t taste great fried?) but you will compromise some of the nutrition.
With all the awesome benefits, are there any drawbacks to eating fish? Yes, but it’s a small caution. The higher a fish is on the food chain, the higher levels of mercury it can contain8. Mercury is no joke and should be avoided, especially women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. That said, eating small fish is relatively safe and the benefits outweigh the risks. If you’re concerned, talk to your doctor and research the advisories issued by your state about safe levels of locally caught fish.
Fish is truly one of the best foods you can add to your diet. High in protein, rich in nutrients many people are deficient in, and is delicious to eat.