Fish is just as essential to our diet as fresh fruit and vegetables. Besides being an excellent source of protein, vitamins A, B and D, and minerals, such as calcium, selenium and iodine, it is a very important source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are crucial for our well-being. They also help to achieve peak mental performance. The old saying that “fish is good for the brain” and that “fish is good for your eyesight” has its roots in scientific fact.
Omega-3 fatty acids are fundamental molecules in the structure and activity of the membranes of all the cells in our body. They have specialised functions in neurological tissues, especially the brain and the eye’s retina. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the formation of new tissue, which means that we need them to grow and develop.
Pregnant women need to eat fish because omega-3 fatty acids are essential to the development of the foetus’s brain and vision during the last trimester of their pregnancy. Throughout our lives, these omega-3 fatty acids continue to play a major role through the prevention and management of certain diseases and chronic conditions.
Changes in our diet during the past 50 years or so mean that we are eating more cereals and processed foods, like canned food, ready meals and spreads, and much less fish and grass-fed meat. The modern western diet is low in omega-3 fatty acids, and this is not good for us at all.
If you don’t eat meat, or have been asked by your doctor to cut down on your meat intake because of high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, then fish is an excellent source of protein without the fattiness of animal meat.
Fish contains less than 1% carbohydrates, and yet it is rich in vitamins and minerals. Fish eaten with fresh green salad, rather than with potatoes or rice, is a well balanced meal for any dietary requirements – whether health indicated or driven by the need for weight loss.
Fish described as ‘oily’ are rich in vitamin A and particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Some oily fish with which we are most familiar are: salmon, trout, mackerel, herring and sardine.
Farmed fish has an advantage when compared to some other wild species in that the diet consumed by the farmed species contributes to a relatively lean fish with high omega-3 content.
One potential contaminant, Mercury, accumulates over time in adult fish. Our fish are too young to accumulate any, which is why very large fish may contain mercury. Samples of fish flesh are analysed regularly for heavy metals and only insignificant traces have been found.
The British Heart Foundation stresses the importance of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, found in fish, in helping to reduce the clotting of blood platelets and to lower blood triglycerides. The foundation also believes that omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial in the treatment of heart rhythm disturbances.
According to Professor Ed Rainger these fatty acids naturally dampen inflammation. There is evidence to suggest that people who have coronary heart disease should eat two or three portions of oily fish each week to reduce their chance of dying from a heart attack.