Getting more fish into your diet has never been easier-and the payoff in better health and longevity has never been clearer. Whether youre grilling salmon filets, adding anchovies to stewed vegetables in ratatouille, or serving up burgers made with canned tuna, healthy fish can take many forms. Even far from the sea, flash-frozen fish and inexpensive canned options mean theres no excuse for not enjoying the health benefits of fish.
The advantages of eating fish are many, says Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, director of Tufts HNRCA Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory. Fish offers omega3 fatty acids and, depending on how it is prepared, is low in calories and saturated fat. Besides the inherent nutritional positives of fish, she adds, substituting fish (not fried or heavily breaded) for entres such as steak and quiche pays off doubly.
The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week, particularly fatty varieties high in omega-3s such as salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna. A serving is 3.5 ounces cooked, or about three-quarter cup of flaked fish.
TWO MORE YEARS: Now theres fresh evidence that following that advice can not only reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, but actually help you live longer-especially if youre already age 65 or older. Although eating fish has long been considered part of a healthy diet, few studies have assessed blood omega-3 levels and total deaths in older adults, says Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, PhD, of the Harvard School of Public Health. New findings by Dr. Mozaffarian and colleagues published in Annals of Internal Medicine, he says, support the importance of adequate blood omega-3 levels for cardiovascular health, and suggest that later in life these benefits could actually extend the years of remaining life.
The researchers examined 16 years of data from about 2,700 US adults age 65 or older who participated in the long-term Cardiovascular Health Study. Participants, average age 74, were generally healthy and did not take fish-oil pills. Rather than relying on dietary questionnaires to measure fish consumption, the study took blood samples at baseline to analyze total omega-3s as well as levels of three specific omega-3s found in fish: DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DPA (docosapentaenoic acid).
Overall, study participants with the highest total omega-3 levels had a 27% lower risk of total mortality due to all causes, and in particular were less likely to die of coronary heart disease and arrhythmia. Those with the most blood omega-3s lived, on average, 2.2 years longer than those with the lowest levels.
DHA was most strongly related to lower risk of coronary heart disease death, especially deaths due to arrhythmias (electrical disturbances of the heart rhythm).
DPA was most strongly associated with lower risk of stroke death, and EPA with lower risk of nonfatal heart attack.
FROM ZERO TO SOME: When the researchers looked at how dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids related to blood levels, the steepest rise in blood levels occurred when going from very low intake to about 400 milligrams per day. The findings suggest that the biggest bang-for-your-buck is for going from no intake to modest intake, or about two servings of fatty fish per week, says Dr. Mozaffarian.
Thats not hard to do, says Tufts Lichtenstein. In addition to fresh fish that is widely available, affordable options include flash-frozen filets and canned sardines, salmon and tuna, she explains. Particularly in the summer months, fish is a great addition to salads. Consider preparing with an oil and vinegar dressing and a bit of lemon and rice to keep it light-and, of course, lots of vegetables.