Fish is among the healthiest foods you can eat and one of the best sources of protein.
It’s one food that almost all health authorities agree that should be part of a healthy diet.
The fish’s health qualities are almost incomparable to other protein sources like meats.
While it may not look all meaty and mighty like protein giants (such as beef and pork), fish has almost the same amount protein as those meats without all the calories.
- 3oz Tuna: 24g of protein 112 calories
- 3oz Snapper: 17g of protein 85 calories
- 3oz Salmon: 17g of protein 177 calories
- 3oz Rib Steak: 20g protein 302 calories
- 3.5oz Roast Pork: 245g protein 255 calories
In addition to lower calories, fish is also low in fat, especially saturated fat and total fat.
In fact, most fish and shellfish contain less than 5 percent of total fat and even “fatty fish” is considered low in fat, having around 15% fat content, which is comparable to lean meats.
But low-fat is not the fish’s best selling point. As a matter of fact, it’s completely the opposite.
What makes fish’s fat content so healthy is the type of fat you find in fish.
Out of all protein sources, fish is the only one with marine omega fatty acids (EPA and DHA).
They are super healthy fats, so vital to our health, growth and development that a lack of it can even hurt us.
These fatty acids are often called omega-3 fatty acids or fish oils and considered essential fatty acids for its work in helping absorb vitamins and nutrients and provide fuel to our bodies.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 (DGA), a daily dose of omega 3 fatty acids in the amounts of 250-500 mg is recommended for healthy adults.
Also, a daily supplement containing 1,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids is recommended by the American Heart Association to adults with heart disease who don’t eat fish regularly.
For those of us looking to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight, fish is also an ideal choice containing fewer calories, lower total and saturated fats, and more quality fats than any other protein sources.
Considering fish is considered one of the best foods for weight loss by many dietitians, health experts, and medical professionals, adding fish to your diet is a proven way to improve your health and revamp your weight-loss plan.
On top of it, fish has other amazing health benefits equally valuable and worthy of your attention.
Before further a due, here are 11 amazing health benefits of why we should all eat “plenty of fish”—These health benefits are proven and supported by scientific research.
1. Omega 3 Fatty Acids for a Healthy Heart & Brain
Image credit: womensbrainhealth.org
Omega 3s and omega 6s (both polyunsaturated fats) are essential fatty acids we need to obtain through our dietary sources because our bodies can’t produce them by themselves.
Our bodies need these fatty acids for many of the bodily functions such as building healthy cells to maintaining brain and nerve functions.
There’s also growing evidence that they help lower the risk of heart disease and protect against type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and age-related brain decline.
But that’s when omega 3s and omega 6s are in equilibrium.
The problem is that standard American diet supplies too much of one fat and too little of the other, throwing off the balance between the two out of whack. In fact, way off.
Several sources of information suggest that human beings evolved on a diet with a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA) of approximately 1:1. In today’s Western culture, the ratio is somewhere around15:1 to 16.7:1.
One obvious reason for this undesirable shift is the standard Western diets.
They are not only deficient in omega-3 fatty acids but also contain excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids compared to the diet human beings evolved and in which their genetic patterns were established.
Excessive omega 6s in the modern diet is linked to abundant use of dietary sources rich in omega 6s.
According to LiveStrong.com, you can find omega-6s in everyday products such as plant-based oils such as soybean oil and sunflower oil and nuts and seeds.
There are also high levels of omega-6 fatty acids in processed foods, canola oil, and restaurant meals.
On contrary, use of omega-3 rich food sources is not an everyday event for many, thus the struggle to meet the daily intake.
Many of us are deficient in the fatty acids, DHA and EPA, in deed.
This naturally leads to an imbalance between the omegas and can contribute to various health problems and diseases including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Autoimmune diseases.
Luckily, the best solution is a simple one (in this case).
Decrease the intake of omega 6s while increase the amount of omega 3s.
When the omegas are in balance, optimum health, faster recovery, disease prevention and improvements in health conditions can take place.
Several studies have noted fascinating results of the balanced omegas.
One study found that in the secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease, a ratio of 4:1 (omega 6s: 3s) was associated with a 70% decrease in total mortality.
The same study saw a ratio of 2.5:1 resulted in reduction of rectal cell proliferation in patients with colorectal cancer. It also reported a ratio of 4/1 with the same amount of omega-3 PUFA had no effect.
Also, a decreased risk of breast cancer was reported with a lower omega 6s and higher 3s ratio.
- A ratio of 2~3:1 suppressed inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
- A ratio of 5:1 had a beneficial effect on patients with asthma while a ratio of 10:1 had adverse consequences.
While these studies indicate that the optimal ratio may vary with the disease, better health is certainly found in a better balance of the omegas.
So how much omega 6s is appropriate?
The American Heart Association recommends 5% to 10% of food calories come from omega-6 fatty acids.
You can do this by limiting processed foods and decrease the use of plant-based oils known to contain high omega 6s such as canola oil and soybean oils.
Omega-3s intake can be tricky depending on your dietary preferences.
Since Omega-3s come primarily from fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna, eating fish is the fastest and easiest (and most recommended) way to get more omega 3s in your system.
If fish is not your forte, note that you can find smaller amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in walnuts and flaxseed in lesser amounts. You can also choose to supplement it with “fish oil supplements”.
If you plan on upping your omega 3s intake by eating fish, consider the following fish known to contain the highest level of omega 3 fatty acids.
Sardines, in particular, are one of the most concentrated sources of omega 3s; just one serving contains over 50% of your recommended daily intake.
Taking omegas through eating more fish also has another advantage. It decreases your omega 6s.
Because fish is unprocessed, you can avoid taking in unnecessary omega 6s. But of course that’s unless your definition of fish is McDonald’s fish burger.
If it is, then you’ll be way too much omega 6s and very little if any omega 3s.
All in all, by addressing this imbalance through eating plenty of fish (and less processed and unhealthy junk foods), you can balance your omega 3 and omega 6 ratio.
You’ll keep heart healthy, and your brain sharp as you age.
2. Healthy Source of Protein and Essential Amino Acids
It’s sort of a public knowledge that 60 percent of the human body is water.
But did you know that about 20 percent of the human adult body is made up of protein? That’s right.
Protein plays a critical role in almost all biological processes and amino acids are the building blocks of it.
A large proportion of our cells, muscles and tissues is made up of amino acids, carrying out many important bodily functions, such as giving cells their structure.
They also play a key role in the transportation and the storage of nutrients.
As you can see, a protein is a vital macronutrient, responsible of building tissues, bones, muscles, cartilages and blood. In addition, protein helps produce enzymes and hormones; and is essential for healthy hair, skin, and nails.
There are 20 amino acids, and 9 of them are essential because we require them for a healthily functioning body, yet we can’t produce them.
This creates the need to source those amino acids from food we eat.
All animals are good sources of protein in that sense as they deliver all the amino acids we need.
But what makes some high-protein foods are healthier than others is what comes with protein: healthy fats or harmful ones.
It’s this protein package that’s likely to make a different in your health, and fish is the healthiest one.
Let’s take a look.
Fish contains all the 9 essential amino acids, making it a complete protein source just like any other protein foods such as beef, bison and pork.
Compared to the other proteins that come with harmful saturated fat that can raise your cholesterol levels, fish is low in that.
According to Harvard School of Public Health, eating even small amounts of red meat, especially processed red meat on regular basis is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, and the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease or any other cause.
Conversely they stated that, replacing red meat with healthy protein sources such as fish, poultry or a more vegetarian based diet rich in beans, lentils and other protein sources seems to reduce these risks.
Let’s dig deeper.
A 6-ounce broiled porterhouse steak is a great source of protein—providing all 9 essential amino acids and 40 grams of protein.
But it also comes with 12 grams of saturated fat. And if you’re following a 2,000 a day calorie diet, that’s more than 60 percent of your recommended daily intake for saturated fat.
Let’s compare this to fish.
6-ounces of wild salmon has about 34 grams of protein but only 1.7 grams of saturated fat. It’s also naturally low in sodium.
Salmon and other fatty fish are also excellent sources of omega-3 fats, a type of fats especially good for the heart.
In the United States, the recommended daily allowance of protein is 46 grams per day for women over 19 years of age, and 56 grams per day for men over 19 years of age.
Going back to the 6 oz of salmon, that’s 74% of your recommended daily intake of protein for women.
Also, it is worth mentioning that almost all fish is healthy and rich in protein.
Amongst the best is halibut, containing 42grams of protein per half fillet or 1 serving (159g). All that is accompanied by 5 grams of fat and 1 gram of saturated fat.
If you are a calorie counter, there is about 223 calories in that serving size.
To wrap up, it’s the add-ons to amino acids you want to watch out for. And fish is by far the cleanest protein you can get.
3. Vitamin-D for Bone Health
You’ve probably heard that fish is a good source of lean protein, but how about fish optimizes your vitamin D level? I bet you haven’t’ heard much about it.
While it’s little known, fish is a great source of Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is an essential vitamin and is needed for bone health, as it assists in the absorption of calcium.
Despite its importance, Vitamin D deficiency is a pandemic in the United States.
It’s been evidenced that vitamin D deficiency has been linked to cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease.
And the real danger is in the low level of awareness.
According to Dr.Mercola, many Americans including physicians are not aware that they may be lacking this essential vitamin.
In fact, it is estimated that 41.6% of the US populations is deficient in this important vitamin.
If you look at the dietary sources of Vitamin D, it’s not as surprising as one may think. Unlike many other important vitamins you can get through eating healthy foods like fruits and veggies, Vitamin D is not widely available in typical and more common foods.
Because there aren’t many foods that contain vitamin D naturally, Vitamin D is a bit little harder to obtain.
In fact fish is the only good dietary source of Vitamin D.
The best way to optimize your vitamin D is through eating fish (even fatty fish) or appropriate sun exposure.
And if you’re not fortunate to enjoy year-round sunshine, then you’ll have to source this essential vitamin through your diet only.
But not to worry, you’ll find this ultra vitamin in fish like salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, kipper, fresh tuna, anchovies, and lots more.
In fact a 3.5 oz fillet of cooked salmon contains a full day’s adequate intake of vitamin D for anyone under the age of 70.
3.5 oz of mackerel or 1 serving worth contains almost enough of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin D.
If not fish, foods such as cheese, eggs, liver, mushrooms exposed to UV light may be your next best bet as they contain some Vitamin D. Also certain fortified foods like yogurt, juices, and dairy may contain Vitamin D.
4. Iron for Healthy Blood Cells
Iron is vital for human health and is needed for a variety of complex processes that continuously take place on a molecular level.
Iron is required for the production of healthy red bloodcells to keep our skin, hair, and nails healthy (a process known as haematopoiesis). We also need it to carry oxygen through our blood and around the body and to convert blood sugar to energy.
Iron is also important for healthy neurotransmitters, which carry messages from one nerve to another. Neurotransmitters cannot function without enough iron.
According to the World Health Organization, a staggering 2 billion people – over 30% of the world’s population – are anemic, many due to iron deficiency. If you think this only applies to developing countries, you’re wrong.
Iron is the only nutrient deficiency that is also significantly prevalent in industrialized countries.
Iron deficiency affects more than 3 million Americans.
So how much iron is recommended a day?
The Food and Drug Administration suggests 18 grams of iron a day.
However, gender plays a role in determining the amounts of iron needed on a daily basis.
Women age 19 to 50 need 18 mg of iron daily while men the same age need just 8 mg – I guess men get off easy on this one than us, women.
But if you like eating fish, it’s not that hard to meet the requirements.
Especially meeting the heme iron, a type of iron found in fish and meat.
There are two types of iron:
- Heme Iron
- Non-Heme Iron
As mentioned above, heme iron is found in fish and meat, and nonheme iron is in certain leafy greens and iron-fortified grains, such as breakfast cereals.
Seafood is one of the most iron rich foods while being low in fat and calories.
3 oz of clams, mussels or oysters contain 3.5 mg of iron
3 oz of canned sardines contain 2.1 mg
3 oz of halibut, haddock, perch, salmon, or tuna contain 0.7 mg.
If you’re not a fish or meat-eater, the Food and Nutrition Board at the National Academy of Sciences recommends nearly two times more iron each day than people who eat fish and meat.
To meet the iron daily requirement, follow a diet comprised of leafy greens and fish.
Combining 2-3 servings of fish (each serving 3.5 ounce) weekly and other plant-based iron rich foods such as kidney beans, dark chocolate, chickpeas, quinoa, lentils, dark leafy greens and tofu, you can easily get an adequate amount of iron.
5. Prevent and Treat Depression
It’s been proven numerous times that eating seafood is linked to lower risk of heart disease and reduced risk of developing diabetes.
But could eating fish help ward off depression?
Depression is a serious problem and common mental disorder.
According to NewsWeek.com, every year, about 42.5 million American adults (or 18.2 percent of the total adult population in the United States) suffer from some mental illness, and enduring conditions such as depression and bipolar disorder.
This boils down to this cold fact that 1 out of 5 Americans suffer from mental illness each year.
Yes, these numbers are staggering and incredibly scary!
It is characterized by low mood, sadness, decreased energy and loss of interest in life and activities.
Although it isn’t talked about nearly as much as heart disease or obesity, depression is currently one of the world’s biggest health problems.
But you can decrease your risk by adding fish to your diet.
Studies have found that people who eat fish regularly are much less likely to become depressed.
A study reported by the Health U.S News and was published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health report that high consumption of fish was associated with a decrease in depression and found that eating fish helps boost your mood.
The researches from study found that people who consume the most fish lower their risk of depression by 17 percent compared to those who ate the least.
“Fish is rich in multiple nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids, high-quality protein, vitamins, and minerals, which are associated with decreased risk of depression in our study”, said lead researcher Fang Li of the department of epidemiology and health statistic at the Medical College of Qingdao University of China.
The omega-3s benefits against depression are shown in other studies and controlled trials, citing notable increases in the effectiveness of antidepressant medications.
This also translates to better mood and better quality of life for those who eat fish often. In a literal sense, fish can make you a happier person, or at least lift your mood.
Other mental disorders such as bipolar disorder also benefit from omega 3s and fish oils.
6. B12 Vitamin for Healthy Nerves and Cells
Vitamin B12 is one vitamin that we don’t get enough of.
In fact, around 39 percent of the U.S population is B12 deficiency. Lack of this essential vitamin can lead to some serious health problems.
And most definitely, Vitamin B12 deficiency can be sneaky, harmful.
According to a case report for Harvard affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital published in the New England Journal of Medicine—A severe vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to deep depression, paranoia, and delusions, memory loss, incontinence of taste and smell, just to name a few.
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that is involved in the function of every cell in the body, especially the formation of blood and the function of the brain.
Strong evidence suggests that deficiency in vitamin B12 often results in anemia, impaired brain function, symptoms of mental disorders, and a smaller brain.
The human body needs vitamin B12 in order to function properly, produce healthy red blood cells, nerves, DNA, and carry out many other functions.
It’s hugely important that we get enough of this vitamin.
The average adult needs about 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 a day. And like most vitamins, B12 can’t be made by the body.
So we must obtain it through our diet, from foods or supplements.
Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal foods like fish, meat and eggs, with fish being among the richest sources of B12.
Just 3oz of clams, oysters or mussels will provide several times your minimum daily intake, as well as a serving of mackerel, smoked salmon, herring, tuna, canned sardines, and trout.
If you don’t like eating fish, then make sure you’re still getting enough of this important vitamin through meat sources, eggs, dairy, fortified tofu or supplements.
7: Iodine for a Healthy and Functioning Thyroid
Iodine is another essential nutrient that cannot be made by the body. But iodine is vital to your health for a well-functioning thyroid.
Iodine is used by your thyroid to help regulate metabolism and development of both your skeletal, brain and many other things.
If you’ve been around the weight loss scene or been health conscious for some time, you may already be familiar with the term thyroid and what it does.
Thyroid is most often known for its major role in regulating your metabolism.
More specifically, the role of the thyroid is to produce hormones, which is essential for a healthy heart, brain, muscles and other organs.
We also need these thyroid hormones to be healthy for the use of energy and keep us warm.
As you guessed, much of iodine in our diet comes from iodized salt. But that does not mean it’s the healthiest. Iodized salt has very little nutritional value, containing no other healthy nutrients.
As a matter of fact, iodized salt itself may not possess enough iodine. Shocking, I know.
One U.S study revealed only 53% of their salt sample content was iodized salt, an amount below the recommended dose.
So, what could be a better source of iodine besides iodized slat itself?
That’s right. Foods that come from the sea including saltwater wild fish, seafood, and sea vegetables like seaweeds. They are a really rich source of iodine and provide much more than just salt.
How much iodine should you be taking in a day? For an average adult, it’s 150 mg, according to the National Institute of Health.
Fish is one of the highest iodine-containing foods as 100 g of white fish provides 115 mcg of iodine, and 100 g of shellfish provides about 90 mcg.
The same amount of oily fish provides 50 mcg.
If you’re not a seafood eater or don’t like dairy, here’s a list of other foods to add more iodine to your diet.
The recommended iodine in micrograms: 150 micrograms (mcg) per day for adult men and women. 220 mcg for pregnant women. 290 mcg for lactating/ breastfeeding.
- Baked Potatoes: One medium baked potato provides about 40% of the recommended daily amount of iodine.
- Dried Seaweed: Dried seaweed might be the go to remedy for iodine deficient folks. It contains an incredible amount of supply of this essential mineral. 1/4 ounce contains a whooping 4,500 micrograms of iodine, which is way more iodine for the body to absorb in 1 day. It’s best recommended to consume smaller portions overtime in order to gain the health benefits of iodine.
- Dried prunes: Serving size of 5 prunes provide about 13micrograms of iodine. Prunes are also a great source for essential vitamins like vitamin A, K and nutrients and minerals like fiber and boron.
- Bananas: A banana is a quick and healthy way to get an energy boost, thanks to its high potassium content. Banana is also a great source for iodine, making them a healthy and nutrient-rich food to supplement an iodine deficient diet. 1 medium-sized banana contains 3 micrograms of essential iodine.
- Strawberries: Strawberries are not only nutritious and nutrient rich fruit that provides the body with many key vitamins and minerals, but they are also a surprising source for iodine. One cup of strawberries contains 13 micrograms of iodine, which is just under 10% of what the average adult needs to consume per day to meet RDV.
There are plenty of other foods that contain iodine, but this list of iodine rich foods should be a good start for you. I will cover more on iodine foods and iodine deficiency in the near future.
8. Improve Sleep Quality
Among other various positive effect, fish has long been praised for its low fat content and high protein content.
What’s lesser known is that eating fish may help regulate sleep patterns and increase quality of sleep.
There’s been strong evidence of a link between fatty acids found in fish and the production of various hormones and neurotransmitters.
Sleep disorders are incredibly common. And it’s on the rise among one of the global health problems.
It’s estimated that sleep disorder is affecting as many as 150 million people worldwide, according to researchers at the University of Warwick Medical School at the University of Warwick.
Because insufficient sleep often leads to lack of energy to exercise and unhealthy eating, sleep deprivation is associated with a number of negative health implications such as heart disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity, according to one study from Harvard Medical School and the Division of Sleep Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
There are many different reasons for this such as the increase of stress, exposure to bright light at night, but some researchers believe that vitamin D deficiency can also play a role.
In one study that tracked 95 male participants over a 6-month period, frequent consumption of salmon (three times a week) led to improvements in both sleep and daily functioning.
This was presumed to be due to the vitamin D in the salmon.
Takeaway: The takeaway here is there is preliminary evidence that eating fatty fish like salmon may lead to improved sleep quality.
9. Fish May Help Protect Your Vision
Macular degeneration also known as age-related macular degeneration is a leading cause of severe vision loss in people over the age of 60 causing impairment and blindness. According to WebMD, it occurs when the small central portion of the retina, known as the macula, deteriorates.
The retina is the light sensing nerve tissue at the back of the eye. And because the disease develop as a person ages is often referred as age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Although macular degeneration is almost never a totally blinding condition, it can be a source of significant visual disability.
There is some evidence suggesting that fish and omega-3 fatty acids may provide protection against this macular degeneration disease.
In one study, regular consumption of fish was linked to a 42% lower risk of macular degeneration in women.
Another study found that eating fatty fish once per week was linked to a 53% decreased risk of neovascular (“wet”) macular degeneration.
Takeaway: In short, there is a strong evidence shows that people who eat fish even once a week have a much lower risk of developing macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision impairment and blindness.
10. Fish Helps with Asthma in Children
It’s scary to think, but it’s real.
Asthma is on the rapid raise, affecting 20 million Americans an increase over 300% over the last two decades.
Asthma is characterized as a chronic condition where inflammation of the air passages makes breathing difficult. The severity of Asthma symptoms ranges from mild to severe and can include shortness of breath, chest tightness, and attacks of coughing or wheezing.
Amazingly though, numerous studies have seen a positive link between fish consumption and asthma. They revealed in their testing, children who ate fish on a regular basis saw a 24% lower risk of asthma.
Similar results have not been reported and found in adults yet.
Takeaway: Several studies indicating that children who eat a diet that contains fish have a lower risk of developing asthma.
11. Fish is Delicious, Healthy and Super Easy to Make
I know this last one is not really a health benefit of eating fish, but still very important.
I wanted to comment that fish is not only delicious but super easy to make.
And for this very reason, it should be relatively easy to incorporate it into your diet. Eating fish 1-2 times per week is considered sufficient to reap all the benefits of fish included in this article.
Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and alcove tuna are preferable choices and recommended serving sizes are 2-3 ounces of cooked fish.
If you haven’t gotten the message yet, fish is the healthiest and outrageously rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Whenever possible, choose wild-caught fish over farmed. Wild fish tends to have more omega-3s and is less likely to be contaminated with harmful pollutants.
That being said, even with farmed fish, the benefits still far outweigh the risks.
But that doesn’t mean any fish is ok.
Avoid eating shark, swordfish, king Mackerel or tilefish as they contain high level of mercury.
There you have! 11 reasons why to include more fish into your diet.
Adding fish to your diet is a healthy choice full of health benefits. If you aren’t eating fish regularly already, consider committing once a week to start. If you want to learn full benefits of eating fish and best fish recipes, here is a piece to check out: 15 Health Benefits of Eating Fish.