To fish or not to fish?
Of course I’m referring to eating fish, rather than the act of fishing. It’s a common dilemma for people trying to eat better, and for good reason. There are two sides to the question. Are the health benefits of fish real, and if so, do they offset the consequences of eating fish. I’m not here to tell you one way or the other, but to provide a little insight to consider, and then maybe speak to your doctor about it. Either way, whether through fish or other foods, nutritional experts will agree on one important point, and that's the importance of omega 3 fats.
Let's start with fats. Few will disagree that fats are an important part of our diet, said to be good for the heart as well as the brain. However, what fats and how much? I don't like to say a low fat or high fat diet, instead, a right fat diet. The type of fat is so important. This is similar to carbs in that, the type of carb is more important than the amount of carbs. Are you eating complex "good" carbs, or unhealthy, simple, processed carbs? I'll address more on carbs and fats in future posts, but suffice it to say that it's important to give your body enough omega 3 fats, which is a type of polyunsaturated fat. Fish, especially the fattier fish like salmon, happens to be one of the best ways to consume these beneficial fats. Also, salmon for example is pink from the astaxanthin, which is a carotenoid also said to be good for the brain.
I'm not going to delve into the fat issue and how much is good, since that a different topic, but keep in mind, the reason fish is often considered good for you is because of the omega 3 fats. The standard American diet (SAD) has too much omega 6 and not enough omega 3, which is why fish is seen as a good option. This is exactly why farmed fish is often not pulling it's weight. They are fed a diet that isn't natural, and full of grains and soy. In effect, high in omega 6s and low in omega 3s. This is unfortunate since humans evolved on a diet that had close to or equal amounts of 6s and 3s. Most Americans now eat a ratio more like 10:1 or 20:1 which reeks havoc in the body creating issues like inflammation. So once again, as I am often saying, it's an imbalance that is causing premature issues, and in this case, an omega imbalance.
Another very important fact to consider is "why" fish are a great source of omegas. That reason is because of the plants they eat in the ocean. This algae is what makes fish rich with omega 3 fats. Look at fish like a middle man. In addition to these great benefits, what else are you consuming? This brings up the next point about the possible reasons not to eat fish.
What else does fish meat contain? It's a source of cholesterol, and animal protein which has IGF-1, both of which has been extensively researched, and been correlated to a plethora of possible illnesses, like heart disease for example. Although I still find myself in the low cholesterol belief camp, I have to admit that their is increasing controversy over whether or not cholesterol is as bad as it's been believed to be for so many years. Another thing to consider is the possibility that it's less about what fish contains, and more about what it's devoid of, like fiber, phytochemicals, and beneficial carbs.
Unfortunately, our oceans are very polluted. Sadly, there are many man made contaminants in our oceans like PCBs, mercury, dioxins, and other pesticides. Fish can't help but absorb these chemicals and then we eat them. Some fish more than others. Farmed fish are typically worse then wild caught for example, or bottom dwellers often eat substances from the floor and become a higher risk. The size and age of the fish often correlates to the amount of contaminants it contains, meaning older larger fish have more. When fish are swimming in the open ocean eating a natural diet, it makes sense that they will be healthier and provide better nutrition. A vast amount of small fish like sardines and herring are often said to be fed to farmed fish, and negatively effecting the food chain.
So here are some some points to think about. There is no argument over the omega 3 fats that wild caught fish contain, and the health benefits of these fats. The question remains, do the benefits outweigh the risks? Now you have some things to think about. I love salmon and eat it occasionally, but I also like to sometimes take an algae oil supplement to increase my intake of these omegas. I believe it's safe to say that fish, especially salmon, has many nutritional benefits. However, it does come with some negative aspects which leads one to a few quandaries. Is the cholesterol intake ok for you and your body, as well as the animal protein, and potential ingestion of harmful chemicals?
Speak to your doctor about what you've learned and see if he or she advises eating fish for you.
Be safe, and be well.