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Streamline your fish intake

Read on to know, why fish should be an important part of your diet and what precautions you should take when eating it along with the quantity required by our body

The Times of India, New Delhi

Pooja R Singhania, (Registered Dietician)

The increased longevity and lesser instances of stroke amongst Eskimos from Greenland led to detailed inspection of their dietary patterns. Scientists claimed that the higher consumption of marine animals including whale, seal and salmon was responsible for lower incidence of heart diseases, arthritis, stroke, etc. Also lower heart disease related mortality among inhabitants of the Japanese island of Okinawa was found to be associated with the consumption of large amounts of fish.

Fresh water fish is a good source of protein, low in calories and contains very little carbohydrate. Although the fat content of fish is high, the type of fat present is beneficial for health. Fish contains very little saturated fat unlike most other animal products but rather it contains large amounts of omega 3 fatty acids in the readily available form that is absorbed easily by the body.

Type of fish:
Good fish choices for Omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish such as salmon, tuna (canned light), trout, sardines, oysters, crab, shrimp, and cod.

Fish oil
The oil extracted from fish is also known to be rich in omega 3 fatty acids. There are several fish oil supplements available in the market but like any other medicine it should be taken after consultation with a family physician only.

Advantages of fish consumption in different disease conditions.

Coronary heart disease (CHD)
Fish contains large amounts of omega 3 fatty acids. Hence, consuming fish more than once a week greatly reduces the risk of developing heart diseases. In fact, research shows that lower mortality from heart problems is noted among those who consume fish as compared to those who do not eat it at all.

Lowering triglyceride
Researchers believe that fish oil can reduce triglyceride levels by 20% to 50%. Again, these benefits are conferred by the omega 3 fatty acids present, which are readily absorbed into the human body.

Inflammatory conditions
Fish oils have specific components, which improve immunity thereby providing relief in inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, cystic fibrosis and inflammatory bowel disease.

The omega 3 fatty acids present in fish exert a protective role against risk of breast, colon and prostrate cancer.

Eating fish has shown to slow down cognitive decline and prevent memory loss in the elderly. Also maternal intake of omega 3 fatty acids from fish leads to improved brain functioning and intelligence among children.

Dietary modification to increase the intake of fish and omega 3 fatty acids may play an important role in the prevention of depression. Also suicidal tendencies were shown to be reduced in general population with higher omega 3 fatty acids consumption from fish, which increases the turnover of serotonin, a hormone that regulates moods.

Dried salty fish (jhinga) should be avoided completely as they tend to raise the blood pressure.

Another problem with excessive fish consumption is the high levels of mercury detected in fish stocks in coastal areas of Mumbai, Kolkata, Karwar (in Karnataka) and North Koel (in Bihar). The threshold of mercury declared safe for human consumption is level of 1ppm (part per million). The FDA has provided specific recommendations for children and pregnant women since the mercury, PCBs and other toxins in fish may cause them more harm.

•    Avoid eating fish with the potential for the highest level of mercury contamination (eg: shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish)

•    Eat up to 12 ounces (two average meals) per week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury
    (eg: canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, catfish)

•    Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in local lakes, rivers and coastal areas

Quantity to be consumed

The American Heart Association recommends consumption of two fish meals in a week especially fatty fish such as salmon, herring, and mackerel. Fried fish from restaurants and fast food establishments, as well as many frozen, convenience-type fried fish products are low in omega-3 fatty acids and high in harmful Trans fats and should be avoided.

It is advisable to prepare grilled or baked fish with minimal oil and seasoning. One can make use of low-sodium, low-fat seasonings such as spices, herbs, lemon juice and other flavourings.
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