Fish is among the healthiest foods on the planet. It’s loaded with important nutrients, such as protein and vitamin D. Oily fish also provide a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which offer many benefits to the body and the brain.
Since the human body can’t make significant amounts of the most common essential nutrients, fish are an important part of the diet. Eating fish also allows us to avoid “bad” fats commonly found in red meat, called omega-6 fatty acids.
Scientists have long researched the ways in which regularly consuming fish, particularly oily types, can boost human health. Here’s a look at five studies published on StudyFinds that might send you running out to the grocery store to stock up on some delicious filets.
Eating fish regularly could add five years to your life
Want to live longer? Eat more oily fish! Research shows that higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood, which fish contain in abundance, contribute to a lifespan about five years longer than the norm. Just a one-percent increase in omega-3 levels reduces a person’s risk of death as much as quitting smoking, according to an international team of researchers.
The study analyzed data on blood fatty acid levels in over 2,200 people over the age of 65. Scientists monitored each person’s health for around 11 years. Results show four types of fatty acids contribute positively to human life expectancy — including two saturated fatty acids. Typically, health experts advise people to stay away from saturated fats because of their link for heart disease. However, recent studies are finding that some of these fats can actually help keep people healthy.
“What we have found is not insignificant. It reinforces the idea that small changes in diet in the right direction can have a much more powerful effect than we think, and it is never too late or too early to make these changes,” study author Dr. Aleix Sala-Vila concludes.
As for consuming more omega-3, the American Heart Association recommends eating oily fish like salmon, anchovies, or sardines twice a week.
READ MORE: Eat more fish! Increasing omega-3 fatty acids levels could add 5 years to your life
Lowers risk of diabetes
Eating just two cans of sardines a week can help prevent Type 2 diabetes, according to scientists. A recent study concludes that consuming the oily fish is actually more effective than simply taking the same nutrients they provide in pill form.
Of course, the health benefits of eating oily fish are well known. That’s because they contain high quantities of nutrients such as taurine, omega 3, calcium and vitamin D. Their high level of unsaturated fat also helps balance cholesterol levels and prevent heart disease.
The study followed 152 patients who had been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, meaning their blood sugar levels were between 100 and 124 milligrams per deciliter. All participants were then put on a diet, which aimed to reduce the risk of them developing the disease. But some were also given two cans of sardines in olive oil, amounting to 200 grams (or seven ounces), every week.
The number of people at high risk of diabetes who were not given sardines every week fell from 27 percent to 22 percent over the course of a year. But high-risk patients who followed the fishy diet plummeted, from 37 per-cent to an incredible eight percent over the same time frame, the study found. Moreover, eating the oily fish also had other health benefits, including boosting insulin resistance, and increasing good cholesterol and hormones, which help break down glucose and reduce blood pressure.
READ MORE: Eating two cans of sardines a week significantly lowers risk of diabetes
Oily fish can help prevent heart disease
Tuna on Tuesday. Salmon on Saturday. If fish is a favorite menu item, you have new reasons to enjoy it. A recent study involving participants from 60 countries finds that eating oily fish twice weekly can protect against heart disease in high-risk individuals.
It is the omega-3 fatty acids in fish that make the difference. The study found that high-risk individuals who consumed two servings a week of fish rich in omega-3 lowered their risk of heart attacks and strokes by about a sixth (roughly 16%) compared with those who did not eat oily fish. While people at low risk for cardiovascular disease may get some protection by eating oily fish, the positive impact of consuming omega-3 is greater for high-risk individuals.
Scientists say it’s important to know the difference between oily fish and whitefish so you can maximize your omega-3 intake. Oily fish has oil well distributed throughout the body tissues and in the belly cavity, making it the best source of omega-3. Catch some trout, salmon, sardines, anchovies, pilchards, kippers, eels, whitebait, mackerel, herring or tuna for the highest levels of omega-3. While oily fish and whitefish are both great sources of lean, tasty protein, whitefish offers very little omega-3. Keep that in mind if you dine on these whitefish: cod, snapper, grouper, haddock, flounder, pollock, bass or halibut.
READ MORE: Fishing for better health? Two servings of oily fish weekly lowers cardiovascular disease risk
Infants less likely to contract diseases
Infants who consume fish at least once per week are less likely to develop asthma, eczema, and hay fever by the age of six, according to scientists. In fact, babies who regularly ate fish between during the first two years of their life enjoyed a reduction of anywhere from 28% to 40% of numerous diseases.
The study examined data collected for a pediatric allergy survey in Trondheim, Norway. Data on more than 4,000 families was incorporated into this analysis, which investigated the relationship between both the mother’s and child’s fish consumption and the child’s subsequent development of either asthma, eczema, or hay fever.
Study authors say they did what they could to account for other possible factors that may have influenced their findings, such as socioeconomic status. That being said, there is a possibility that children of more financially stable parents have more health advantages than others. Similarly, lower disease rates among this socioeconomic class may be due to multiple contributing factors, and not just fish consumption.
In line with previous meta-analyses of several studies, the study concludes that consuming fish at the age of one year seems to reduce the risk of eczema, asthma and wheezing at the age of six. This is more significant than the mother’s intake of fish and cod liver oil during pregnancy and breastfeeding or the child’s intake at two years, which do not appear to have the same protective effect.
READ MORE: Cod For Kids: Eating Fish Just Once A Week Can Reduce Disease Risk Among Infants
Slashes risk of asthma for children
For children, asthma is one of the leading causes of hospitalizations and trips to the emergency room. It’s estimated that one in 12 children — or about 6 million kids across the U.S. — suffer from the respiratory condition, according to the CDC. Increasing evidence shows that a healthy diet could be a potential therapy for childhood asthma. Research show that children who eat more fish may be less prone to the disease.
Studies have shown that most adult cases of asthma begin in childhood. In this study, researchers conclude that eating plenty of salmon, mackerel and sardines can decrease the risk of kids developing the illness. Scientists say that those who consume the most can cut the risk of developing the life-threatening condition in half.
The study included data from more than 4,500 British children. Those in the top quarter for fish consumption had a 51% lower risk than peers in the bottom.
Although the study cannot say for certain that eating more fish will prevent asthma in children, based on the findings, it would nevertheless be sensible for children to consume more fish, as few currently achieve recommended intake. Moreover, study results were confirmed in an independent cohort of people born in Sweden. Other studies have found that regular consumption of oily fish lowers the risk of heart attacks and strokes, thereby triggering blood fats by more than a quarter.
READ MORE: Children can slash risk of having asthma in half by eating more oily fish
While all of this research pointing to the health benefits of eating fish is certainly exciting, it’s always important to first speak with your doctor or nutritionist before making any significant dietary and lifestyle changes.
Thank you for explaining that eating fish twice a week can protect against heart disease. My family tends to have lots of heart problems and I’ve been wondering if there’s anything that would help to combat that. I never would have thought to eat fish, but I’ll have to start adding it to my regular diet.