A French study of over 8000 people found that those who regularly consume omega 3 rich oils are 60 per cent less likely to develop dementia that those who don’t. Tuna, salmon, mackerel and herring are the best sources, or take a supplement. The study also found that people who eat any type of fish once a week are 40 per cent less likely to get dementia.
When I found out about this study, it got me thinking about the importance of increasing my own fish intake, not so much because of my fear of being diagnosed with dementia but more because I understand that fish is a very important part of a healthy diet, but for various reasons I’ve dramatically reduced my intake over the past couple of years. One reason for this is that I was no longer living at home and so wasn’t lucky enough to have my parents buy (and cook appropriately!) good quality fish and I’m not very confident in producing fish or seafood based meals, due to my paranoia over safely cooking it. To be honest, I’m pretty bad at producing a toast-based meal, let alone seafood, but I’m trying…!
Fish and other seafood are the major sources of healthy long-chain omega-3 fats and are also rich in other nutrients such as vitamin D and selenium, high in protein, and low in saturated fat. It’s such a versatile food group and has such a wide variety of different tastes that I’m sure there’s a fish for everyone – except my lovely friend, Rita, who I have unintentionally spiked with a fish contaminated dish in a restaurant, forgetting she has a fish allergy!
There is strong evidence that eating fish or taking fish oil is good for the heart and blood vessels, in addition to the dementia study. An analysis by Mozaffarian D, Rimm EB (Fish intake, contaminants and human health; Evaluating Risks and Benefits) of 20 studies involving hundreds of thousands of participants indicates that eating approximately one to two 3-ounce servings of fatty fish a week—salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, or sardines—reduces the risk of dying from heart disease by 36 percent.
One risk of eating seafood and fish is the risk of contamination, generally in the form of mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins and pesticide residues. I personally was worried after reading cases of people who had suffered mercury poisoning, as well as reading about it being fatal to foetuses and similar stories.
It is true that very high levels of mercury can damage the brain development and nervous system of a foetus or young child. The effect of the low mercury levels in fish and seafood have been sporadically linked to subtle changes in the nervous and cardiovascular systems, though a report by the Institute of Medicine in the USA proclaims the risks “overrated”.
Given the benefits of eating fish, it might not be a wise choice to avoid in as a means to avoid Mercury or PCBs, especially when the levels of contamination found within meat, milk, eggs and other dairy products are very similar.
In the previously mentioned Mozaffarian and Rimm study, they calculated that if 100,000 people ate farmed salmon twice a week for 70 years, the extra PCB intake could potentially cause 24 extra deaths from cancer—but would prevent at least 7,000 deaths from heart disease. This certainly put the risks into perspective for me.
With all this in mind, I’ve been incorporating more fish into my diet recently and will post a few simple recipes in the coming weeks. If you have any of your own, I would love more tried and tested ideas, so please send them my way!