Although oily fish aren’t a popular inclusion at mealtimes, it’s perhaps time we rethought our relationship with them. Oily fish are packed full of nutrients, so whether you prefer herring, mackerel, pilchards, salmon, sardines, trout or tuna they make an excellent choice to include in your weekly menu. They are easy to combine into meals and prepare, especially if you choose those that are tinned. If you aren’t yet convinced, read on to find out 5 reasons why oily fish make nutritional sense.
Omega-3 fatty acids
When you usually hear about the health benefits of oily fish, it’s often in relation to their omega-3 fatty acid content. These polyunsaturated fatty acids are linked with a reduced risk of heart disease, which is thought to be conveyed by their ability to reduce blood clotting, blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms and levels of triglycerides, a type of blood fat which can increase heart disease risk.
Omega-3 fatty acids are also thought to reduce joint inflammation and can aid development of a baby during pregnancy, so are useful to include at all life stages. However, a word of caution about quantities of oily fish to eat each week – for children and women of childbearing age, they should limit their intake to two portions weekly, while men and older women can have up to four portions each week. These guidelines relate to the levels of certain chemicals that can build up in oily fish and could be harmful if eaten in excess, especially to a developing baby.
The soft bones found in tinned pilchards, salmon and sardines are very rich in calcium. This mineral is essential for maintaining bone strength, essential to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. For anyone who chooses not to or is unable to take dairy produce – usually the main source of calcium in our diet – eating oily fish with bones is a good way to increase your calcium intake.
The dark fleshed oily fish contain more iron than white fish such as cod and haddock. Iron is needed by the body for the formation of red blood cells, which the body requires to transport oxygen and nutrients to all the body cells for them to carry out their functions. Without iron, anaemia develops, which is commonly displayed as tiredness and breathlessness. Although red meat is the richest source of iron in the diet, anyone who doesn’t eat it, should think about including oily fish a couple of times each week.
Oily fish is a good choice to increase your intake of selenium. This antioxidant mineral is thought to protect cells from damage, reducing the risk of developing heart disease and cancer. Although plant-based foods can be a rich source of selenium, their content depends on that of the soils in which they have been grown and modern farming methods have contributed to the low levels of selenium levels in the soil of some countries which may result in higher cost of health insurance abroad.
Although our main source of Vitamin D is from the action of sunlight on our skin, there are a few foods which are a source of the sunshine vitamin – oily fish being one of them. Vitamin D is essential for the regulation of calcium absorption, so plays an important role in bone health. Current research also indicates that Vitamin D may also be involved in the prevention of a number of chronic diseases including diabetes, cancer and multiple sclerosis, so the importance of an adequate intake is more so than previously thought. However, to ensure an adequate intake of Vitamin D when exposure to sunlight is limited, it is recommended that a Vitamin D supplement is taken.