Facts on Eating Fish

Are you confused about the benefits and risks of eating fish? Sometimes it can be difficult to keep all the facts straight. Here’s what you need to know about incorporating fish into your diet:

Two Potential Benefits

Eating fish may protect against stroke: A study published in the journal Stroke found that people who ate fish at least once a week were 13 percent less likely to suffer from a blockage of the blood supply to the brain (ischemic stroke) than those who did not eat fish that often.

Eating fish may help fight disease: Fatty fish are among the richest sources of omega-3 fats. The American Heart Association currently recommends that most people eat fish at least twice a week because the omega-3 fatty acids they contain help protect against heart disease. Omega-3s are not only helpful for cardiovascular health, they may also help protect against arthritis, type 2 diabetes, depression, Alzheimer's disease, vision loss, and some cancers. Omega-3s are most concentrated in cold-water fatty fish such as sardines, mackerel, herring, salmon, and trout.

Two Potential Risks

Eating fish high in mercury can be dangerous during pregnancy: Pregnant women, nursing mothers, and women considering pregnancy should limit consumption of fish containing methylmercury. This industrial pollutant can impede the development of the nervous system in fetuses and babies, as well as in young children. Since methylmercury tends to accumulate over time, it is most concentrated in fish with longer life spans, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and albacore tuna. The Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency say that pregnant women can safely eat up to 12 ounces of seafood a week, or about two average meals. Eat a variety of seafood that’s low in mercury and high in omega-3 fatty acids, which may help promote a baby’s brain development.

Farmed fish may contain contaminants: Farmed fish, including catfish, tilapia, and salmon, may contain high levels of pesticides and other toxins depending on what they’re fed. To avoid any negative effects of this contamination, make it a point to buy wild fish instead of farmed when possible. When shopping for fish, look at the labels (or ask the fish seller) to identify whether a particular fish is either farmed or wild.

How You Cook It Matters

Forget fried! There are many healthy ways to prepare fish that don't compromise its health benefits. Baking, broiling, grilling, or sautéing (suing a healthy oil) are recommended over frying. For dozens of ideas for preparing fish the South Beach Diet way, check out our Recipe Finder.

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