Easter weekend is just around the corner, which means so is Good Friday… and the Easter Bunny! Good Friday is a day where many people abstain from eating red meat in honour of Jesus Christ sacrificing his life for us. As a consequence, fish consumption skyrockets! For this reason- it seems timely to explore the nutrient composition and health benefits of fish!
Fish is a lean meat that contains some amazing nutrients. This includes protein, fats (in particular omega 3’s), selenium, zinc, iodine, calcium, Vitamins A, B12 and D, amongst others as well.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in Australia has collated a number of research papers, and from this recommends that Australian’s eat at least 2 serves of fish per week due to its many benefits for our health. Let’s take a deeper look into the composition of fish.
Fish is a lean meat that contains high quality protein that is readily bioavailable, meaning it will absorb well in the body.
Protein is an important nutrient needed by the body for growth and repair. Without it we become malnourished and eventually die. The great thing about fish is that whilst it is high in protein, it is low in saturated fat, making it a lean food option.
Fats/Omega 3 fatty acids:
Fish is an excellent source of polyunsaturated fat, which is known as a ‘healthy’ type of fat that possesses a number of beneficial properties to health. Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that the body requires for survival.
There are three types of omega 3 fatty acids:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
Whilst ALA is most commonly found in plant oils, EPA and DHA are rich in fish and fish oil.
A number of studies have explored the benefits of omega 3’s, and they have found some pretty awesome stuff, although like most research no solid conclusions have been made. Despite this, omega 3’s have shown to contribute to the health of the brain and eyes, which may reduce the risk of neurological conditions such as Dementia and Alzheimer’s, as well as help to prevent cognitive decline. The omega 3’s in fish have also been shown through a number of studies to help prevent heart attacks, reduce triglyceride levels in the blood, lower blood pressure, prevent clotting and reduce abnormal hearth rhythms. There is also some research that suggests omega 3’s may play a role in reducing the risk of depression, and may help increase the effectiveness of some anti-depressant medications. All are big reasons to ensure you have an adequate intake of this nutrient!
Calcium and Vitamin D
Think small oily fish: sardines, mackerel, anchovies and herring to name a few. These types of fish are a rich source of both calcium and vitamin D, nutrients that are vital for bone health. Vitamin D is a nutrient that is particularly hard to source through the diet, and many Australian’s are deficient. Boosting our intake of fish (particularly oily fish) will help Aussie’s to reach our daily requirement- who would have thought!!
Fish vs Fish Oil
Obtaining the nutrients in fish through fish itself is more bioavailable (and likely to be cheaper) compared to taking a supplement, such as fish oil.
Whilst research has shown that high strength fish oil may have some beneficial effects for some people, they can be expensive and may in fact provide you with no benefit.
Our body is made to digest food, not supplements. For this reason, supplements are only usually required for people who have deficiencies, or for some reason may not be able to obtain particular nutrients through the diet alone. For everyone else, eat the food that contains the nutrients you need/want, as nutrients are much more bioavailable within food compared to in a capsule. Eating the food itself also provides a source of other important nutrients that we need (for fish, think protein and vitamins- not just omega 3’s alone).
However, there is no harm in taking fish oil if you want to give it a go. There could be benefits for you individually- it’s just that the science is not there to be in full support of fish oil capsules.
Fish is a great source of nutrients and has demonstrated many protective benefits for our health. Eating fish at least twice a week is advised. Try incorporating all types of fish, especially oily fish, as they are rich in a number of the nutrients Australian’s need most.
Remember, despite these benefits, once fish is deep fried with a side of chips, I am sorry to say, but it does lose many of its health benefits. On most occasions, try having a grilled/poached/steamed piece of fish with a side of vegetables or salad, or try oily fish (like sardines) on toast. Of course- fish and chips is a must have takeaway food every now and then (that’s completely fine!); just make sure you aren’t always choosing the deep fried/battered option.
Have a great Easter and enjoy a delicious piece of fish on Good Friday!
- Better Health Channel. Fish. Victorian State Government & Deakin University: 2013. Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/fish
- NHMRC. Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults. Commonwealth of Australia: 2003. Available from: https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/publications/attachments/n33.pdf
- Le Wine H. Fish oil: friend or foe. Harvard Health Publications: 2013 [updated Sep 2016; cited Apr 2017]. Available from: http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/fish-oil-friend-or-foe-201307126467
Sydenham E, Dangour AD, Lim W-S. Omega 3 fatty acid for the prevention of cognitive decline and dementia. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews. 2012(6):CD005379.
Delgado-Lista J, Perez-Martinez P, Lopez-Miranda J, Perez-Jimenez F. Long chain omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease: a systematic review. Br J Nutr. 2012;107(S2):S201-S13.
Eslick GD, Howe PRC, Smith C, Priest R, Bensoussan A. Benefits of fish oil supplementation in hyperlipidemia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Cardiology.136(1):4-16. Available from: http://www.internationaljournalofcardiology.com/article/S0167-5273(08)00524-X/abstract?cc=y=