I have done a series of stories for Today Tonight about the health benefits of eating fish. The more one looks into this the more fascinating it becomes. Apart from omega 3 fatty acids, seafood and fish are good sources of iodine, lean protein, selenium and vitamin D.
The term essential fatty acids applies to fats that are essential for us to consume because we need them and the body can not make them. In the whole “fat is bad” mantra which took off in the late 1970’s the baby was well and truly thrown out with the bathwater.
Let me be direct here. We need Omega-3 fatty acids and most of us do not get enough. They have a number of roles to play in the body particularly in reducing slow inflammation, which is central to many chronic diseases.
Getting the right amount of Omega-3s reduces the likelihood of getting a number of illnesses. There are plenty of studies, which show that people who eat fish regularly are less likely to suffer heart disease. The chances of getting Alzheimer’s disease are reduced, as are rates of depression. People with arthritis often find their joints feel better and regular consumption of fish protects against developing arthritis. There is also research showing benefits of omega 3’s in helping vision by reducing the onset of macular degeneration.
In addition to all that, the latest research is showing that Omega-3 intake is associated with longevity. Those with high omega 3 intakes had longer telomeres on their DNA (our genes). One of the theories of ageing is that we age as our telomeres shorten with the constant duplication that occurs when our cells divide.
There are also benefits at the start of life. Brain development starts in the womb and eating fish while pregnant can get babies brain the best start. Children who eat fish are less likely to suffer asthma and Omega-3’s are important for brain function. Rates of ADHD and other behavioral problems are less in children who get adequate Omega 3 in their diet.
The best source of Omega-3 is fish, especially deep-water fish like tuna, salmon and sardines. In an ideal world we would get our Omega-3 intake by eating 2.7 serves of fish each week. This may not happen for many people so fish oil supplements are a good way to go. Omega-3 also comes from vegetable sources like flaxseed, walnuts and soy although they do not seem to be as potent in the body as the fish source.
The key omega-3s are alpha –linolenic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). We need about 1g per day of DHA and EPA from fish sources or 2.5g per day from vegetable sources.
One of the best ways to reduce slow inflammation and the development of chronic age related disease is to have an adequate intake of Omega-3s. Seafood is the best source of Omega 3. Cooking fish is not as hard as you may think and there are many great recipes out there on the web and in cookbooks. The simplest approach to white fish is to gently pan fry filets of fish in olive oil after seasoning with sea salt and pepper. Tuna too can be gently pan-fried or char grilled, as can salmon (my favorite).
Eating two meals of fish each week is one of the simplest things you can do to support your health.