Why Fish Should Be on Your Menu Every Week

posted: 04/15/15
by: Christine Lepisto
eat fish every week
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Fish cooks in a second and is filled with nutrients.

Everyone knows that fish is a healthy source of protein, preventing heart disease due to its strong balance of "good" fats. But two recent studies highlight lesser known benefits of fish: preventing breast cancer and protecting bones.

Benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for preventing breast cancer have been suspected but not conclusively proven by individual studies. So a group of researchers lumped the data from all of these smaller studies together in order to show that when a big enough set of data is examined, a 5% lower risk of breast cancer per 0.1g/day of omega-3 oil from marine sources could be demonstrated -- for a 14% lower breast cancer risk relative to people who are not pro-actively consuming fish. (Fish ranges from 2.6 to 0.1 grams of omega-3 per serving of fish.)

Another study, at Ohio State University, linked high levels of omega-3 fatty acids with healthy bones, finding that women who had not experienced a broken hip -- an injury commonly related to osteoporosis, or bone density loss -- had higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in samples of red blood cells. The study does not yet demonstrate a causal link, which will be pursued before dietary recommendations can be justified, but researchers hypothesize that the suppression of inflammatory reactions by high omega-3 levels reduces the re-absorption of bone by the body. According to senior author, Rebecca Jackson:

Inflammation is associated with an increased risk of bone loss and fractures, and omega-3 fatty acids are believed to reduce inflammation. So we asked if we would see fractures decrease in response to omega-3 intake.

But the study also contributes to the growing evidence that Americans are sabotaging any benefits of eating omega-3 fats by consuming too much oil high in omega-6 fatty acids. Women with higher ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 had higher risks of a broken hip.

If all this has your head spinning, here is a simple primer on good fats. Fats can be divided into saturated, mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated types. The saturated fats, typical in beef and butter, are associated with heart disease if eaten in excess (although omega-6 fats are also increasingly suspected). For this reason, doctors have long recommended polyunsaturated fats as a replacement -- leading to high consumption of corn, soybean, safflower and sunflower oils. However, these oils all have high levels of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats -- meaning that most people are getting 15 to 25 times as much omega-6 as they get omega-3 -- while cutting edge data suggests this ratio should not be more than 5:1.

So get the most out of eating fish, you need to eat two portions of fatty fish twice a week -- and cook with olive or canola oil instead of corn, soybean, safflower and sunflower oils. If you want to pick fatty fish with an eye to preserving fish stocks: Altantic mackerel, farmed oysters, and wild Alaskan salmon are good choices.