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Expert Author Ratna Rashid
If you are health conscious or the type of person that keeps a close eye on your weight, then there is a fair chance you will have come across the above advice several times.
Yet what is it about fish that makes it the favourite of so many experts in healthy eating and dieting?
Cross cultural comparisons
To some extent at least, the popularity of fish in terms of recommended eating has its origins in comparative studies between different populations around the world.
Perhaps the best known example of this is the Mediterranean diet and its association with the indisputable statistical evidence pointing to the fact that many populations around the region have far lower instances of cardio-vascular disease (e.g. heart attacks and strokes etc.) than populations in other parts of the world, most notably Northern Europe.
Some decades ago there was an attempt to simplistically attribute this to one thing or another that may have been eaten in and around the Mediterranean. Today, that is seen as being slightly naïve and a much more holistic view is taken, looking at things such as the combination of various foodstuffs, exercise, reduced stress levels and even the fact that there is typically far more sun and warmth in the area than in Northern Europe.
However, fish is typically consumed to a much higher degree in and around the Mediterranean than in other parts of Europe and North America. Not only that but the fish consumed is quite often of a type less popular in the north, including things such as sardines and mackerel – plus other examples of so-called ‘oily fish’.
It isn’t only the Mediterranean though which has offered cross-cultural comparisons that appear to show a correlation between fish eating and a reduction in the prevalence of certain diseases.
Japan is another often-quoted example, due to the fact that traditionally this culture ate comparatively little meat but very large quantities of fish – though that is changing rapidly.
Once again, Japanese rates of certain of the occasionally titled ‘Western illnesses’, such as those mentioned above, are considerably lower than you might typically find in Northern Europe.
What is the effect?
Many types of oily fish contain high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.
Much conventional medical science now accepts that certain fatty acids may have an important role to play in helping to keep the circulatory system in better condition and thereby reducing the risks of certain types of cardio-vascular illness.
Extensive claims have also been made for the cancer-reducing properties of fish oils but perhaps slightly surprisingly, medical science has struggled to clearly and objectively substantiate those claims through objective experimentation.
However, few people would claim that eating oily fish is anything other than good for you though interestingly in the United States, pregnant women in particular are advised to reduce their consumption of what are sometimes called the ‘top predator’ fish such as sharks plus some types of tuna and mackerel.
That’s largely to do with concerns that the top predators may have consumed other fish containing mercury and other pollutants.
In summary, it’s probably fair to say that the wonder ‘cure-all’ reputation that oily fish built up a few years ago has now been diluted somewhat in the light of pragmatic experience. For example, the Mediterranean diet is now seen as being much more a combination of things such as fish, nuts, fruit and vegetables, rather than just fish itself.
Even so, there is little doubt that eating oily fish should be an important part of any health-conscious diet or weight loss programs.