Eat Fish Today for a Healthier Heart Tomorrow

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The human heart is among the body’s most devoted workers, beating some 100,000 times a day to transport nutrients and oxygen and cart away harmful waste. Yet heart disease remains the No. 1 killer in America; in 2009, an American had a coronary event about every 25 seconds. Clearly, this miraculous organ is not getting the respect it deserves.

Take (ahem) heart…when it comes to our primary pump, prevention goes a long way. Reducing alcohol intake, kicking a smoking habit, regular stress management and daily exercise (a requirement, not a luxury!) are all vital tools in your heart health arsenal.

Diet-related measures for a healthy heart include a look to the sea, as the fatty acids concentrated in certain fish have been shown to reduce the risk of death from heart disease.

It is the healthy omega 3 fats found in fatty fish—eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—to which seafood lovers owe the added heart protection. The results from several recent fish oil studies have been overwhelmingly positive. One study linked EPA and DHA to a lowered incidence of second heart attacks; another to the prevention of the accumulation of fat in the aorta, and still a third to the reduction of inflammation in men with elevated triglycerides (blood fats that can lead to hardening of the arteries).

Put Fish on the Menu

This growing body of research has led the American Heart Association to recommend all healthy people over age two consume at least two servings per week of fatty fish such as wild-caught Atlantic salmon, mackerel or sardines.

For the more than half of Americans who eat fish occasionally or not at all the answer may lie in a pure, high-quality fish oil supplement. Look for a product that contains 1,000 to 2,000 mg a day of EPA/DHA. Make sure that it’s pharmaceutical grade, which will guarantee that each capsule contains the amount of fish oil that’s stated on the bottle. And seek out the source of the supplement; those made from fish harvested from cleaner waters have a lesser chance of contamination from mercury, PCB’s and dioxins.

For an impartial evaluation of more than 50 fish oil manufacturers, and to find a product that follows the strictest standards for reducing contaminants, visit the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund at www.edf.org.

Seafood 101

Is your family less than crazy about seafood? Pick up a fish cookbook and experiment until you find a recipe they’ll love. Start with a mild white fish like halibut and work your way up to stronger tasting fish like salmon. And remember: when it comes to omega 3s, not all fish are created equal. Here are some of the most heart healthy, featured with the amount of omega 3 grams you’ll find in one serving (3.5 oz) of each.

  • Mackerel, 2.6g
  • Trout, lake, 2.0g
  • Tuna, blue-fin, 1.6g
  • Salmon, 1.5g
  • Sardines, canned, 1.5g
  • Tuna, albacore, 1.5g
  • Anchovies, 1.4g

Before choosing a fish, know exactly what you’re getting and what impact its production might have on the environment. For the skinny on all of your favorite fish, download Seafood Watch’s pocket Seafood Selector at www.edf.org/documents/1980_pocket_seafood_selector.pdf.

Armed with a strong healthy heart, you’ll be fit to handle the diverse challenges life sends your way. With minor modifications to lifestyle and diet, you can take great steps to protect your heart. Your whole body will thank you.

Article originally published in the Winter 2010 Whole Foods, Whole Body Newsletter.

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