The Benefits of Eating FishWhile omega-3 fatty acids are good for us, mercury can be harmful, and since both are found in fish, you may have asked yourself whether you should eat fish or not.
What are the benefits of eating fish? What are the risks? Should we eat it? Should we avoid it? These are commonly asked questions, which is why I’ve decided to share some research on this topic, because we all need to know if the benefits of eating fish outweigh the risks, and what we can do to minimize any risk associated with fish consumption. Let’s start by mentioning the benefits.
Fish is a Great Source of Important Nutrients
By now many of us could easily agree that eating fish is beneficial to our health because of its rich nutritional value, which includes:
- Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA)
- Omega-6 fatty acids
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin A
Fish is the most important source of omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) and according to Dr. Angela Donald, Director of Education and Clinical Research at Ascenta Health, in addition to EPA and DHA, fish and other seafood are also rich in other nutrients such as vitamin D and selenium, high in protein, and low in saturated fat. In addition, small fish when eaten whole (with head, organs and bones) are particularly rich in calcium and some are also rich in vitamin A, iron, and zinc.
Dr. Angela Donald explains that our body cannot make omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and that since they are necessary for numerous normal body functions, such as growth, reproduction, vision, and brain development, we must get them through food. According to her, a deficiency in essential nutrients, whether it is vitamin A, vitamin C, zinc, or essential fatty acids (omega-3s and omega-6s), will promote disease.
Furthermore, she adds that an “increased consumption of the highly unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) has proven beneficial in the prevention or treatment of many chronic health conditions, that include but are not limited to cardiovascular disease, depression, and cognitive decline.”
Avoid or Limit Your Consumption of Certain Types of Fish
Nonetheless, eating certain types of fish too often and/or in big amounts can be harmful, too, due to mercury exposure. Fish with high concentrations of mercury include:
- Fresh or frozen tuna
- This list is not exhaustive - there are many more varieties of fish that are high in mercury
Health Canada recommends to avoid or limit the consumption of these types of fish to:
- General population – 150 grams per week
- Women who are or may become pregnant or who are breastfeeding – 150 grams per month
- Children 5-11 years old – 125 grams per month
- Children 1-4 years old – 75 grams per month
Smart Fish Choices
Fortunately, there are some fish that are low in mercury and therefore excellent fish choices. Some examples of these include:
- Rainbow trout
- Atlantic mackerel
- This list is not exhaustive — there are many more varieties of fish that are low in mercury
Of these kinds of fish Canada’s Food Guide recommends the general population to eat at least two Canada’s Food Guide Servings (75 grams each) of fish per week, and children and specified women as follow:
- Women who are or may become pregnant or who are breastfeeding – up to 4 servings per week
- Children 5-11 years old – 2 servings per week
- Children 1-4 years old – 2 servings per week
The Bottom Line
In conclusion, it is important to add fish to our diet because of its rich nutritional value and health benefits. Nonetheless, it is very important to choose fish that are low in mercury; fish such as salmon and rainbow trout are excellent choices. Also, avoid eating fish that are high in mercury (e.g., shark, swordfish, fresh/frozen tuna, etc.) or limit their consumption to what is recommended by Health Canada. The goal is for you and your family to enjoy the benefits that eating fish has to offer while minimizing your exposure to mercury.
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How do you prepare fish and what types are your favourites? Share your tips and recipes in the Comments section below.