The benefits of eating fish greatly outweigh the risks

16 08 2007

In the last few years there’s been a lot of talk about the potentials benefits and risks of fish consumption. We all have heard about the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and the risks of pollutants like mercury. Studies have shown that high levels of mercury exposure (as after an industrial accident), can have adverse health effects. However, the effects of low-level exposure (i.e. from eating fish) are less well-established. All this has led to confusion among the public, rising a logical question: do the risks of eating fish outweigh the benefits?

Well, it seems that a possible answer can be given thanks to a study published a few months ago in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study basically found that fish consumption was associated with reduced risk of cardiac death, lower total mortality and improvements in child brain development.

This study was a major review of other studies and governmental reports. Researchers found that the benefits of eating a modest amount of fish per week (about 85 grams of farmed salmon or 170 grams of mackerel) reduced the risk of death from coronary heart disease by 36%. What’s more important, intake of fish or fish oil reduces total mortality by 17%. The benefits were related to the level of intake of omega-3 fatty acids, and thus benefits are greater for oily fish (e.g. salmon, bluefish), which are higher in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, than lean fish (e.g. haddock, cod).

The same study states that for infants and young children, omega-3 fatty acids from seafood likely improve early brain development. To obtain this benefits, women of childbearing age, nursing mothers and young children should eat up to two servings per week of a variety of fish (e.g. salmon, light tuna, shrimp, mackerel) and avoid only four species of fish (golden bass, king mackerel, shark and swordfish), because they may contain higher levels of mercury. This last advisory is only for women of childbearing age, nursing mothers and young children, not the general population.

So, based on the evidence, the benefits of eating one to two servings of fish a week greatly outweigh the risks among adults and, except for a few species of fish, women of child-bearing age. Now you know, toss away that fatty burger and get your serving of healthy and tasty fish!

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