4 Health Benefits of Eating Fish Twice a Week
By now you should realize that eating fish is good for you. It’s packed with omega-3 fatty acids that have a number of health benefits, not to mention that they are also the foundation for rich seafood recipes you’re going to love.
To get these health boosts, however, you’ll have to add fish to your household menu at least once or twice per week. “When we talk about the advantages of eating fish, we’re talking about over the long term – which comes from eating it twice a week,” Alice Lichtenstein, former chair of the American Heart Association’s Nutrition Committee and professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University in Boston told the American Heart Association.
Of course, not all fish are created alike. Some have a higher content of omega-3s, such as mackerel, salmon, tuna, sardines, and bluefish. But if you’re a seafood novice, go with what’s available fresh in your local market (sometimes the best option will be frozen, unless you live near a coastline) and what you think you’ll like. “The most important thing is they have to enjoy the type of fish they buy or else it’s going to be a one-time thing,” Lichtenstein said.
No matter what type of seafood you’re selecting, you’re setting yourself up to have a healthier life in the long run, particularly when it comes to your heart and your memory. Here are a few reasons why incorporating more fish in your diet is worth it in the long run.
1. It reduces your risk of memory loss
A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that eating fish as part of a regular diet reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 47%. The study’s authors autopsied the brains of 286 deceased participants after following their dietary habits for years as part of a memory and aging study. None of the participants were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease when they began the study, but those who ate fish frequently were significantly less likely to develop the neurological pathology consistent with Alzheimer’s disease.
In this case, there was a significant difference in participants even if they only had fish once per week, meaning if you’re most concerned about your memory, the twice a week recommendation isn’t totally necessary. “Most studies in dementia have found that one seafood meal a week is beneficial,” lead researcher Martha Clare Morris told The New York Times, though “they haven’t found that the more you eat, the lower the risk.”
Another finding of the study, however, was that imposters don’t fake out your brain. Fish oil supplements had no significant effect on limiting Alzheimer’s, meaning you need to eat the actual fish to earn this benefit.
2. It lowers your risk of heart disease
There’s a reason the American Heart Association is eager to convince you to eat fish twice per week: It can significantly decrease your chances of dying from heart disease. One study, again published in JAMA, concluded that eating one to two servings of fish per week, “reduces risk of coronary death by 36% … and total mortality by 17%.” This is especially true when the fish is high in omega-3s. (If you’re curious about which fish have the highest omega-3 content, this chart from the University of Michigan provides a ranking.)
Another study found that in men ages 40 to 59, eating meals containing fish once or twice per week reduced their risk of dying from a heart attack by 50%. Some people are concerned about increased levels of mercury that come from eating a larger portion of fish each week. While it’s true that pregnant and nursing women and small children should limit their intake of certain types of fish, for everyone else “the benefits of eating fish usually outweigh the possible risks of exposure to contaminants,” the Mayo Clinic states.
3. It reduces inflammation
In some cases, inflammation in the body can damage blood vessels and lead to heart disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. Eating fish twice per week (the clinic’s and the American Heart Association’s recommendation) can reduce this risk.
But even if you’re not at risk for heart disease, eating fish can improve your health in other ways. The Arthritis Foundation recommends two servings of omega-3 rich fish per week to reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, consuming fish or fish oil can ease the pain of joint damage from rheumatoid arthritis, though it won’t slow down the progression of the disease. Though eating the real fish is always preferable, another study found that consuming fish oil helped reduce the need for painkillers to ease joint stiffness and pain.
4. It can lower high blood pressure
About 1 in 3 Americans (70 million people) have high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High blood pressure is a leading cause of heart attacks and strokes, which together are the leading causes of death in the United States.
If you have serious high blood pressure, eating fish probably won’t be the only treatment you need. (Exercise and medication might also be recommended by your doctor.) However, studies have shown eating fish can help to regulate cholesterol levels, which will help reduce the risk of health complications that often go along with high blood pressure. The DASH diet, medically devised to reduce high blood pressure and one of the best diets of 2016, relies on a meal plan that includes fish. Large amounts of fish oil can help to lower blood pressure, though WebMD suggests eating the real fish instead of taking oil supplements, since the supplements in large doses can cause unpleasant side effects.