Why do so many people recommend eating fish?
Because fish has a wide assortment of health benefits! It is a nutritional powerhouse. Most people know that fish contains omega-3 fats, which are well researched for their benefits to the heart, arteries, and blood. But did you also know that fish is one of the best sources of quality protein? And some very important nutrients such as vitamins A, D, and zinc. All these factors make fish one of the best foods you can eat for your heart.
Here are the top 5 ways that eating fish is especially good for heart health:
The omega-3 fats in fish are proven to reduce inflammation. This is important because inflammation is at the root of almost all heart disease. Inflammation causes irritation to the artery walls, and the body tries to protect itself by depositing plaque into the damaged blood vessel walls. Eventually, the plaque builds up so much that the arteries become brittle and the walls thicken, leaving less space for blood to flow through. Arteries that are blocked in this way push blood pressure up, stressing the heart and increasing the risk of heart attack. Reversing this process is a key strategy for improving heart health.
Inflammation is a complex process made up of a series of chemical reactions, known collectively as an inflammatory cascade. An inflammatory cascade is triggered when there is damage or injury to part of the body. This is often needed within the body to repair and protect the injury site. But if the injury is caused by food choices, and carries on for months or years, inflammation can cause problems of its own. The oils in fish influence the inflammatory cascade, joining in the series of reactions and changing the outcome. Omega-3s push the process away from inflammation and toward normal activity.
It is well documented that the omega-3 fats in fish reduce blood clotting. For people who are at risk of heart disease or already suffering a heart condition, this can be of great benefit because blood clots can cause heart attack or stroke. Both of these can be life threatening, and the experience creates a lot of stress for patients and their families. For people who are generally well, eating fish is a great way of maintaining health and protecting against heart disease in the future.
Blood clotting is caused by tiny cells in your blood called platelets, which are counted when you have a blood test because their number gives you an idea of how likely it is for your blood to clot. Of course clotting is necessary sometimes - when you have a cut you want it to clot so that it stops bleeding. But blood can become too sticky if platelet numbers rise, and will sometimes form clots inside the blood vessels, which is can cause major health issues. Omega-3s prevent platelets from forming clots. They do this by reducing the activity of platelets, which slows clotting time and keeps the blood thinner.
Did you know that every cell in your body contains protein? Proteins are literally the building blocks for life. So if you don't get enough protein, you simply can't build a strong, healthy body. Your heart is muscle and your arteries are connective tissue. These are both protein-dense and need a reasonably high protein intake to function well. A heart muscle that is protein starved will be weaker and smaller than it should be, and less capable of doing its very important job of pumping blood around the body.
Fish is a high-protein food that is also very low in saturated fat. This makes it a healthy option when compared to other high-protein foods such as red meat, which is high in saturated fat. Protein is so important that dietitians recommend it with every meal. A palm-size serving of a high-quality protein source such as fish is enough to keep your body going until the next meal time.
Did you know that every cell in your body contains oil? Cells are like tiny globes, or eggs, with a shell that protects them and keeps the outside environment separate from what's happening on the inside. This protective "shell" is called a cell membrane; it is mostly made of oil (fat) and it has a huge influence on health. Your body uses the fats that are available to it to make this membrane. If you are like most people in the developed world, you eat lots of saturated fats, hydrogenated and trans-fats, so these are the fats that make up most of your cell membranes. These fats can cause problems because they are solid and inactive. They cause the membrane to become stiff and non-responsive. It means that messages can't get through between the outside and inside of the cell.
The oil in fish is the opposite of this - it is fluid and active - and makes the cell membrane more flexible and responsive. It ensures that the cell is able to send and receive the correct instructions to work properly. Blood cells and blood vessels have a particular need for this flexibility and fluidity because of the way the blood is in constant motion and needs to circulate freely through the body. Blood vessels expand and constrict as temperature and activity levels change. Without this vital function, the heart has to work extra hard to pump blood around.
It is likely that you have heard about the need for antioxidants. They have been getting a lot of attention because of their impressive health benefits. Most people now understand the basic idea that oxidation (and oxidative stress) can result in poor health and aging. The antioxidant nutrients in fish include vitamins A and D, and the minerals selenium and zinc.
Vitamins A and D are fat soluble vitamins, which means they need to be eaten with fat or oil in order to be utilized by the body. Fish is the perfect food in the way it delivers you the vitamins with the fat to make use of them. Both vitamin A and vitamin D are thought to protect the heart from oxidative damage and contribute to healthy aging. Selenium and zinc are often lacking in people's diets, as most food we eat contains very little of these health-giving minerals. Food that is overly processed or grown in depleted soils is likely to have very little selenium or zinc. Fish and shellfish can be great sources of selenium and zinc.
Dietitians recommend eating fish to 2-3 times weekly. They understand the great value of this food that is high in protein, vitamins, minerals and good omega-3 fats, and low in saturated fat. Fish is especially good for the heart and arteries, and can even help people who already have health concerns. It makes the perfect center-of-the-plate protein to preserve health and protect against future disease for people who are generally well. As a proven anti-inflammatory and antioxidant food, fish is highly recommended for anyone who wishes to take actively seek good health. It is also delicious and can be cooked a thousand different ways. Check out our Recipes section for some new ways to serve this wholesome and tasty food.