15 Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Fish
Fish and seafood have always been considered healthy options and a vital part of a well-balanced diet. Even from a young age I was regularly informed that fish was a ‘brain food’ and would help me to concentrate at school. In recent years, studies have looked in to the benefits of eating fish and whether its label as a ‘super-food’ is entirely justifiable. Due to its high protein content and the fact it’s packed full of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, its use among athletes and fitness enthusiasts is widespread. But is it really as good for the mind and body as everyone makes out? Below I take a look at the benefits of a seafood rich diet and try to establish whether incorporating more of it within your meal-plans could not only improve your exercise regime but also your work-life and career. Omega-3 is not something which is created by the human body naturally so if you do wish to take advantage of all these apparent benefits then you will have to consume Omega-3 rich foods like oily fish or take supplements.
Benefits of Omega-3 rich oily fish
Meat, including beef and lamb is renowned for its high protein content but it also contains a lot of fat. Fish, on the other hand, is a great source of protein but is lower in fat. Fish with white flesh has a lower quantity of fat than any other animal protein source. Furthermore, the fats which are contained in fish are healthy ones, which is contrary to the ‘bad fats’ found in red meat. Oily fish, in particular, such as mackerel, tuna and salmon is full of omega-3 fatty acids which research has found to be effective in reducing the risk of common physical and mental illnesses in later life. Omega-3 is also present within the liver of white fish such as cod and is available in capsule format for easy consumption.
May improve your ability to exercise and recover
Many bodyweight exercise routines, including HIIT classes, require both a high level of strength and aerobic fitness to be accomplished successfully. From personal experience I’ve found that consuming seafood a few hours prior to workouts and also in the recovery period can be very beneficial. Research has shown that fish which is high in omega 3 is excellent for helping to maintain cardiovascular health and also in the regulation of blood clotting and preventing the constriction of vessels. Furthermore, if you are looking to get stronger and tone muscles, fish could enhance your training as a result of its high levels of Creatine. This is a popular supplement for strength training and is contained in fish such as Herring. Just a pound and a half of Herring contains 5 grams of Creatine. In contrast, it would require you to eat 2 pounds of beef or 3 pounds of chicken to obtain the same amount of Creatine. Fish also has many benefits as a post workout snack and is also quite convenient, particularly the likes of tuna and mackerel which are available in small tins with easy to open ring pull lids. The reason it is such as an effective post workout snack is because of its anti-inflammatory properties and will therefore help to soothe and repair tired and sore muscles.
Great alternative to meat for weight loss
It is a fact that fish is much lower in calories than meat. A pound of Atlantic Cod contains just 372 calories whereas a pound of beef contains a staggering 1,134 calories. From personal experience I’ve found that replacing a couple of meals a week- which contain highly calorific meat - with fish can help in the weight loss process. How the fish is cooked is also important. Grilling the fish, baking it in the oven or frying in healthier oils like olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil are all great ways to cook fish if you are trying to maintain your current weight or lose weight. Combining the fish with steamed vegetables and/or whole-grains will create a nutritious meal with a good mixture of proteins, healthy fats and carbohydrates. One of the things that may put people off eating fish is finding bones in your meal. My advice would be to find a good fish mongers as they should fillet and even remove the skin without any hassle, although some people prefer the skin left on. Another thing which may dissuade people from buying fish is the cooking process itself as there doesn’t seem to be as many fish recipes available as there are for red meat and poultry. For this reason I have included some fish based recipes at the bottom of this article.
May help to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes
One of the most conclusive studies in recent times was carried out by researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre and focused on Yup’ik Eskimos in Alaska. It was said that The Eskimos’ diet, which mainly consisted of oily fish meant they consumed on average more than 20 times the amount of omega-3 than people from the 48 lower states. The data from the tests carried out on the Eskimos found that they were at a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes than people of a similar age and weight who did not have a diet which included such high quantities of oily fish.
Considered to be a great ‘Brain Food’
You’ve possibly heard about fish being a great brain food and probably dismissed it as an old wives’ tale, but there is now in fact evidence to suggest that fish could actually be as good for the mind as it is for the body. Research has shown that omega-3 can increase your concentration levels and also improve your overall mood. The specific type of fat within omega-3 which can help the brain to function more effectively is called DHA. The good news is that DHA is particularly prevalent within oily fish like mackerel and tuna. Studies have also shown that fish and seafood which is rich in omega-3 can help our brain function as we get older. A Swedish study concluded that people who had a diet rich in omega-3 were less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease later on in life. Studies have also shown how the consumption of oily fish can lead to an improvement in cognitive function which can increase our ability to carry out brain-based skills.
High in Vitamin D
The high quantity of vitamin D in fish is another reason it can be of great benefit to your health. This important vitamin is crucial in the promotion of bone growth as it helps you to absorb calcium more efficiently. You can get Vitamin D naturally from sunlight but in the darker winter months it can be common for people to suffer from vitamin d deficiency. During the times in the year in which you are receiving less Vitamin D from sunlight it is important to include more of it in your diet and this is when fish and other Vitamin D rich foods like eggs can be of great benefit. If you are not fond of foods which contain Vitamin D or might even be allergic to certain varieties then you can choose to take Vitamin D tablets instead.
May help to protect your vision when you get older
As we get older, poor eyesight can often become a real problem. The most common cause of blindness in older people is something called Age-Related Macular degeneration (AMD). Recent studies, however, have shown that by increasing the amount of omega-3 rich fish that you eat may actually help to prevent the onset of AMD. Scientists claim that it is the anti-inflammatory properties within omega-3 which help to protect our vision as we get older. It is not just in old age that we should be eating more fish in order to protect our vision as omega-3 helps to make the miniscule blood vessels in our eyes stronger. These fatty acids will also enable the intraocular fluid within our eye to flow more effectively and therefore help to prevent other eye conditions, such as glaucoma, from developing.
May improve your sleep quality
Getting enough sleep is an important and often overlooked necessity when it comes to living a healthy life. Sleep deprivation – particularly over a prolonged period of time – can lead to a number of health issues including memory loss, mood changes, poor concentration levels, high blood pressure, low sex drive and weight gain. Many people who suffer from insomnia and other sleep related conditions have tried various methods in order to get a good night’s sleep. From cutting down on caffeine before bed time to yoga and meditation, there is plenty advice for those who are desperate to catch some z’s but recent research has also shown that a diet which contains omega-3 rich fish may also be of great benefit. A study carried out in China which analysed data from over 500 school children found that eating fish was linked to a fewer problems with sleep and also higher IQ test scores. The data gathered from this study implies that eating more fish may not only help you to sleep better but might also help your brain to function more effectively as a result. A study like this is also likely to encourage more parents to ensure their children are easting enough fish and seafood throughout the week.
May Improve joint mobility and help fight against join pain and arthritis
Improving and maintaining joint mobility, particularly later on in life, can help you to carry out everyday tasks and activities without any discomfort. Although joint pain and arthritis are two things you would usually associate with the older generation, regardless of what age you are it is always important to look after your joints. If you suffer from joint pain or simply want to maintain healthy joints then incorporating more omega-3 fatty acids in to your diet through the consumption of oily fish is highly recommended. It is the two types of fatty acids within omega-3 that can be so beneficial for your joints. These types of fatty acids are called DHA - docosahexaenoic acid and also EPA - eicosapentaenoic acid. If you are looking to reduce the inflammation which can cause swelling and discomfort in your joints then studies have shown that DHA and EPA are the most effective fatty acids in omega-3 at doing so. These fatty acids may also help to slow down the development of osteoarthritis. If you do not suffer from joint pain all of the time but just on the odd occasions, most notably after vigorous exercise, then the omega-3 in fish can help to reduce the symptoms of sore joints and morning stiffness. In addition to a diet rich in oily fish there are other ways in which you can improve joint mobility including regular stretching and regular low impact exercises like swimming.
May Improve your skin
You may believe that the best way of maintaining healthy looking skin is solely through the use of specialist skincare products. What you may not realise is that what you put in to your body in terms of the food you eat is equally important for skin health. Now, we’re not suggesting for one moment that you should avoid your favourite detoxifier or moisturiser the next time you visit your local supermarket, we’re simply telling you that you can also find plenty of goodness in the food aisles too. Among the types of food which are good for your skin are fruits like blueberries and oranges, as they are packed full of Vitamin C which can provide your skin with a more radiant look. If you’re looking at ways to promote your skin health then foods which are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids are highly recommended. Omega-3 is a natural anti-inflammatory which means it may even help to reduce the effects of common skin conditions like acne, eczema and psoriasis. Research has even suggested that omega-3 may even reduce the risk of skin cancer by limiting the effects of UV rays.
May be good for your hair
If you are finding that the hair products you are using are proving ineffective against brittle and dry hair and dandruff then you might just be missing a trick. Incorporating more foods within your diet which contain Omega-3 fatty acids may just help your hair to look and feel great. The aforementioned acids in Omega-3; DHA and EPA are once again the key components. These acids are effective at nourishing your hair follicles which leads to hair which is both healthy and strong. There is even evidence to suggest that Omega-3 could slow down the hair loss process and is effective at doing so by hydrating the scalp and providing a reduction in inflammation.
May protect lungs and help breathing
In the modern world there are many ways in which the health of your lungs can be at risk. Although, many of us are striving to create a greener and less polluted planet, air pollution and chemical fumes are still a big problem and can cause a number of health issues. If you already have problems with your respiratory system or suffer from conditions like asthma or emphysema then it is particularly important that you do all you can to protect your lungs from any additional damage. In terms of promoting lung health and avoiding respiratory issues later on in life, your diet can actually play a big part. Foods containing Omega-3 may not only reduce inflammation in the lungs but also in the airways which therefore increases our ability to breathe.
May reduce the risk of blood clots
There have been many studies in recent years which have researched the potential for omega-3 fatty acids helping to reduce the risk of blood clots and deep vein thrombosis. One of the most conclusive studies was carried out in Norway and examined 23,500 people aged between 25 and 97. The Tromso study discovered that by eating oily fish a minimum of three times a week could reduce the risk of blood clots by 22%. Although it was still not established how the omega-3 reduced the risks of blood clotting it demonstrated that incorporating more oily fish and other omega-3 rich foods within your diet could prove to be a vital preventative measure against blood clots.
May fight against depression
Depression is a complicated and sensitive subject for which there are many treatments and services available in order to provide people with as much help as possible. We’ve looked at how omega-3 may boost concentration levels and your capacity to retain information but can it really boost your mood and help to fight against depression? Although there is no conclusive answer there is a correlation between people suffering from depression having low amounts of DHA and EPA within their blood. As we have mentioned earlier, DHA and EPA are the specific acids found in Omega-3. Although it cannot be suggested that omega-3 should act as a substitute for any other method by which people are attempting to overcome depression, it could be viewed as a beneficial natural source for promoting mental health.
May reduce the severity of allergies
Although there are many products available which are specifically produced for the treatment of certain allergies, changing your diet and incorporating more of a certain type of food may also help to reduce symptoms. Once again it’s the anti-inflammatory properties within Omega-3 which may help to prevent allergic flare-ups and reduce severity among those who suffer from common allergies like asthma and eczema. In addition to getting plenty of Omega-3 through oily fish there are other changes to your diet which you can make in order to provide a greater level of relief from allergies. The antihistamines in Green Tea, for example, can be particularly effective at reducing the severity of allergies.
How do you know if you are buying seafood from a sustainable source?
When buying fish and seafood you should always look out for an MSC label which means it is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. It is usually a blue label which you may have noticed if you ever buy cans of Tuna and mackerel. The MSC label signifies that the fish have come from a sustainable fishery which uses the best practices. Cans of Tuna may also come with a Dolphin friendly label. ‘Dolphin friendly Tuna’ means that no Dolphins were deliberately netted or circled during the catch. Farmed fish is an alternative to wild varieties and is often more affordable. Common varieties of farmed fish include salmon, trout and sea bass. If you can, I always recommend that you buy wild fish but some of the farmed fish in supermarkets these days is of a reasonable quality and is sourced from well managed fisheries. Shellfish such as Mussels, Oysters, Clams and Scallops are also regularly farmed and readily available in most food malls. I always try to buy fresh seafood but when the opportunity is not there I don’t mind acquiring frozen varieties. Frozen prawns, for example, can be bought in bulk and used as part of several different dishes as you can just defrost the quantity you require. Shellfish varieties have many similar benefits to fish as they are low in fat and calories and high in protein. Mussels, for example, are high in zinc which helps to build immunity from diseases and they also contain a large quantity of iron.
What are the other natural ways to get Omega-3 in to your diet if you don’t like fish and seafood?
Personally, I love fish and seafood but I’m sure there are some people reading this article who are not too keen. If you are somebody who doesn’t like the taste of fish and seafood then there is no need to worry as there are plenty of other ways you can include healthy Omega-3 fatty acids within your diet. There are various natural nuts and seeds which contain high levels of Omega-3 including: Walnuts, Chia Seeds, Flaxseeds and Hemp Seeds. Even Egg yolks contain Omega-3 so there are plenty of alternatives available if you don’t eat fish. There are also Omega-3 supplements available which are supplied in capsule format – handy for carrying around with you throughout the day. Fish oil, including cod liver oil supplements are also available.
How often should you take Omega-3?
Whether you are taking supplements or consuming omega-3 through oily fish and other types of food, there are not set guidelines in terms of dosages. Health experts do, however, recommend that by eating oily fish like mackerel, tuna or salmon twice a week should be enough to benefit from the goodness of this essential fatty acid. In terms of supplements, it is always important to read the label for recommended guidelines.
Seafood Meal Plans and Recipes
Fish and Seafood is extremely versatile and can be eaten in the morning, throughout the day and at night. Some people eat seafood every single day whereas I find that consuming it three to four days a week is enough to benefit from its natural goodness. Although I enjoy meat too much to ever become a Vegetarian or Pescetarian, I do feel I have become healthier and have certainly seen improvements in my cardiovascular fitness since incorporating more seafood within my diet. From experience, I think the best way to cook seafood is through simple processes which don’t overpower the natural flavour. Below I have included three recipes for Breakfast, lunch and evening meal. Obviously you don’t have to have three fish courses on the same day but instead pick and choose the days which are best for you.
Breakfast Meal: Scrambled Egg with Smoked Salmon
This is such a simple recipe which takes less than 10 minutes to make and is therefore ideal if you are in a hurry in the morning before work. This recipe can be adapted depending on your diet plan; for example, I may decide to serve with toasted bread or muffins but if I am trying to reduce my carbohydrate intake in order to lose weight then these will not be included.
- 3 free range eggs
- 15 grams of butter
- 2 slices of Smoked Salmon
- Sea Salt
- Black Pepper
- 1 lemon
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Whisk the eggs in a bowl and add to the saucepan. Cook on a low heat and stir the eggs continuously until it creates moist, velvety scrambled eggs and then turn off the heat. Cut the smoked salmon in to smaller strips and add to the egg. Transfer to your plate before seasoning and squeezing over the lemon.
Lunchtime Meal: Warm Mackerel Salad
This is another simple recipe which can be prepared before you go to work and simply heated up there or you can eat it straight away when made fresh
- 80 grams of Green Beans
- 80 grams of Broccoli
- 1 Large handful of spinach leaves
- 2 smoked mackerel fillets
- 2 tablespoons of Olive Oil
Firstly boil a large pan of water and add the green beans and broccoli and cook for six minutes. While that is cooking fry the mackerel fillets for 2.5 minutes on each side in one tablespoon of olive oil before removing the skin and flaking the flesh in to smaller pieces. Remove the vegetables from the pan and mix with the spinach leaves and mackerel in a bowl before serving with the remaining olive oil as a dressing. It also tastes nice with a sprinkle of sea salt and black pepper.
Evening Meal: Baked Cod Loin in Lemon and Butter
Cod Loin can be acquired from most shops and is the fleshiest part of this tasty fish. This recipe is once again really simple and delicious when served with green vegetables and new potatoes. Don’t include the potatoes if you are looking to reduce your carbohydrate intake.
- 1 Cod Loin of around six ounces – skinless and Boneless
- 1 Lemon
- 15 grams of Butter
- Garden Peas
- New Potatoes (Optional)
Place the cod loin on a piece of tin foil and season well with salt and pepper. Slice lemon and place over the top with the butter cut in to smaller knobs. Fold the tin foil and press so the fish is completely covered. Place on a baking tray in to a pre-heated oven at 170 degrees Celsius for half an hour. Meanwhile, peel the new potatoes and boil in a pan of water for 20 minutes. Boil the garden peas in a pan of water for five minutes. Remove the fish from the oven and serve on a plate with the potatoes and peas.