Harvard Says: Eat Your Fish

salmon_3In our continuing coverage of National Nutrition Month, we take a look at a common nutrition questions: Should we really make the effort to eat fish regularly? Or is that advice just another fish story?

The Harvard Medical School is clear: Make fish your catch of the day. In a recent post, they write: “If you’re seeking heart-healthy fare to put on your plate, fish is a first-rate choice. It’s a good source of lean protein, and many popular types, including salmon and tuna, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These fats, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), may help prevent blood clots, stabilize dangerous heart rhythms, and improve blood pressure. These benefits may explain why people who eat fish a couple of times a week are less likely to have heart attacks or die from heart disease than those who avoid fish.”

Interestingly, the post also looks at fish oil supplements. Says Eric Rimm, a professor in the departments of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health: “People tend to equate the omega-3 supplement trials with the studies on eating fish, but they’re not comparable.”

fishThe post further notes “a report in the September 2014 American Journal of Medicine that pooled results from 19 different studies, fish eaters were less likely to have a heart attack or unstable angina (unexpected chest pain that usually happens at rest) than non–fish eaters. Most of the studies were prospective, which means the participants reported what they ate and were tracked over time—in this case, for an average of 11 years.”

Indeed, that study — titled “Fish Consumption and Acute Coronary Syndrome: A Meta-Analysis” — concludes: “Our meta-analysis demonstrated that there is an inverse association between fish consumption and the risk of acute coronary syndrome. Fish consumption appears beneficial in the primary prevention of acute coronary syndrome, and higher consumption is associated with greater protection.”

But what if you want the benefits of a fishlike diet, but don’t want the fish? The guidance, it seems, is go vegetarian.

Says Rimm: “I think if you were to compare people who eat fish with people who eat a healthy vegetarian diet, the fish eaters probably wouldn’t have a tremendous advantage.”