Eating oily fish twice a week is the key to a healthy heart, according to experts.
Regularly eating fish such as salmon, sardines or mackerel helps to reduce the risk of heart failure, coronary heart disease, cardiac arrest and stroke.
The American Heart Association today published advice that people swap meat, which is high in saturated fats, for oily fish which provides essential omega-3 fatty acids.
And despite concerns about high levels of mercury in larger fish such as swordfish, king mackerel, bigeye tuna and marlin, experts have said they are safe for adults.
Oily fish is believed to be good for human health in a number of ways, with possible benefits for the heart, eyes and brain, and for those with arthritis or dementia.
One scientist said: ‘The current scientific evidence strongly supports the recommendation that seafood be an integral component of a heart-healthy dietary pattern.’
Experts say that the omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish, such as salmon, help to prevent a range of conditions affecting the heart, and adults are recommended to eat two servings per week
US experts recommend people eat non-fried salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines or albacore tuna.
The American Heart Association (AHA) published a statement on omega-3 fatty acids from seafood and supplements and their benefits for fighting cardiovascular disease.
It took into account evidence of the health benefits and risks of consuming seafood and supplements, and reaffirmed its advice that people eat fish regularly.
Reduces risk of biggest killers
Heart disease and stroke are two of the five biggest causes of premature death in the UK, and the AHA believes oily fish could reduce the risk of both.
The new announcement suggests it reduces the risk of ischemic stroke, which is the most common kind and is caused by a blockage in the brain’s blood flow, such as a clot.
Studies have found eating oily fish can lower blood pressure and reduce fat build-up in the arteries, both common causes of serious heart conditions.
Professor Eric Rimm, of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health said: ‘Since the last advisory on eating fish was issued by the Association in 2002, scientific studies have further established the benefits of eating seafood rich in Omega-3 fatty acids.
WHAT’S ALL THE FUSS ABOUT FATTY ACIDS – AND WHAT ARE THEY?
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for brain health and cognition. Low intakes are linked to reduced scores on social behaviour and communication, research published in The Lancet stated.
Average intakes of oily fish, our best dietary source of omega-3, is 18g per week for kids, so just an eighth of a portion of the recommended 140g, according to the latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey.
One type of omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, is essential for brain growth and development in infants and required for maintenance of normal brain function in adults. The human brain is nearly 60 per cent fat and approximately 40 per cent of this is DHA.
High intakes have been shown to enhance learning, while low intakes have been linked to increased risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and aggressive hostility, according to research published in the journal Pharmacological Research.
Another type of omega-3, called EPA, is anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective. It is thought to play a key role in signalling between brain cells and appears to influence mood and behaviour, according to research published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. Low intakes are linked to depression, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s.
‘Especially when it replaces less healthy foods such as meats that are high in artery-clogging saturated fat.’
Beef, lamb, pork and poultry can all be high in saturated fat.
Once or twice a week is enough
Professor Rimm continued: ‘A large body of evidence supports the recommendation to consume nonfried seafood, especially species higher in long chain omega-3 fatty acids.
‘[We recommend eating fish] one to two times per week for cardiovascular benefits, including reduced risk of cardiac death, coronary heart disease, and ischemic stroke.
‘Evidence is more limited for congestive heart failure and mixed for blood pressure because of limited data.
‘A greater seafood intake is generally not associated with either further benefit or harm.
‘In sum, the current scientific evidence strongly supports the recommendation that seafood be an integral component of a heart-healthy dietary pattern.’
Eating fish can be sustainable
The AHA said that while high levels of mercury – possible in larger fish – could be dangerous to newborns, the benefits ‘substantially’ outweigh the risk in adults.
They also said despite concerns about the environmental effects of fish farming, both fish meat and oil supplements can be sustainable.
Professor Rimm added: ‘The capture of wild-caught species has levelled off worldwide, but the productivity of worldwide aquaculture (farmed fish) continues to grow.
‘This growth in production should be monitored to ensure that farming systems are sustainable.
‘It is important to note that the AHA recommendations to consume on average 250 mg [of omega-3] a day is sustainable and can be met by consuming fish one to two times per week, including farmed fish, in place of other animal protein sources.’
The AHA’s advisory was published in the journal Circulation.
Omega-3 cuts general risk of dying young
Recent research by the University of North Dakota suggests that eating oily fish could slash the risk of a premature death by up to a third.
A study of 2,500 older people found those who had the highest amounts of omega-3 were 34 per cent less likely to die within the next seven years.
They were also 39 per cent less likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke.
The fatty acids – found in oily seafood such as salmon, mackerel and sardines – were a better predictor of good health than cholesterol levels.
Omega-3 has previously been found to be high in people who live longest. It is believed to reduced inflammation in the brain, cardiovascular system and other cells.
The fats are essential for brain development both in the womb and in early childhood. They are considered so important they are now added to baby milk formula.