Fish and seafood are nutritious, high quality proteins. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two 3 ½-ounce servings of fish a week as part of a heart-healthy diet. Emphasis has been made on increasing the consumption of “fatty fish,” including salmon, mackerel, lake trout and albacore tuna.
This may sound counterintuitive, but these fish contain omega-3 fatty acids and are low in saturated fat. Omega-3 fatty acids benefit the heart health of healthy people and those with existing cardiovascular (heart) disease. Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids decrease the risk of abnormal heartbeat, decrease triglyceride levels, slow the growth rate of plaque in arteries and can lower blood pressure.
But the health benefit doesn’t stop with your heart. Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and can decrease symptoms from arthritis and decrease inflammation associated with asthma. Some research has also shown they may help protect against Alzheimer’s and dementia and improve memory.
They also are believed to be a factor in lower depression rates in cultures that consume high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
In addition to healthy fish oils, fish is a good source of selenium, potassium and calcium.
Don’t forget shellfish such as shrimp, oysters, mussels, crab and scallops. Shellfish are low in fat, especially low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids. They also are excellent protein sources, as well as good sources of iron, zinc, copper and vitamin B-12. And despite the bad reputation of shellfish containing cholesterol, they contain a combination of dietary cholesterol and similar compounds called sterols, which won’t negatively affect your heart.
Ideally, omega-3s are best obtained from food sources. Discuss with your health care provider before starting Omega-3 supplements or any nutritional supplements.
Registered dietitian Barb Walsh is the community nutrition educator in the Tevis Center for Wellness.