Fish is a lean source of protein and has been shown to promote heart health. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest increasing intake of seafood, which includes fish to at least 8 oz. per week. There are some cautions for pregnant and breastfeeding women related to the types of fish they should avoid, but overall, fish can be a daily part of a healthy diet.
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Nutrient Content of Fish
The nutrient content of fish varies from species to species. In general, fish is high in protein, contains healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids and is low in sodium and saturated fat. Fish is considered a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids to support proper body function.
Concerns About Mercury
Some fish are high in methyl mercury. Methyl mercury is a concern for pregnant women and children, because it can cause damage the central nervous system, including the brain, and other vital organs, like the heart, kidneys and lungs. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, women and children can eat up to 12 ounces of low-mercury fish a week, like shrimp, pollock and light tuna. These high-risk populations should avoid eating tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel, and limit the amount of white tuna they eat to 6 oz. per week
Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Fish
Fish are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help prevent heart disease and are important for proper growth and development of a fetus and during childhood, particularly development of eye sight and brain function. According to the American Heart Association and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the best fish sources of omega-3 fatty acids that have low levels of mercury are salmon, pollock, flounder, trout and Atlantic and Pacific mackerel.
Keep Your Fish Entree Healthy
Fish is naturally a healthy food, but you can ruin the health effects by adding unhealthy items such as salt, mayonnaise, butter and cream sauces or using a deep-fat-frying or pan-frying cooking method. Fish is best lightly seasoned and grilled, poached in a low-sodium broth, sauteed in a small amount of healthy fat, or baked or broiled in the oven. It should be accompanied by vegetables, fruit and sources of calcium to make a well-balanced meal.
- Medline Plus; Protein In Diet; David Zieve, et al.; July 2009
- “The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010”; U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; January 2011
- American Heart Association: Fish 101
- AllRecipes.com: Healthful Ways to Cook Fish
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Mercury Basic Information