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Fish: a heart-healthy catch: vary your fish consumption to minimize contaminants while netting the cardiovascular benefits.

Fish is at the heart of many diets proven to help boost cardiovascular health.

Many fish pack the power of protein and beneficial fatty acids, without the unhealthful fats found in other animal protein sources. Unfortunately, some fish also contain chemical contaminants known to have adverse health effects.

For most men, the health benefits of fish outweigh any potential risks from pollutants, but it's important to school yourself on the best types of fish to eat and how to prepare them.

"Fish has many benefits," says Laura Jeffers, RD, LD, with Cleveland Clinic's Department of Nutrition Therapy. "I try to work with our patients on how they can incorporate fish into their diet in some way."


Nearly all fish contain traces of pollutants, including methylmercury, a neurotoxin that can damage nerves. Methylmercury is measured in parts per million (PPM), or one part per million parts of body tissue. Mercury in fish sold in the United States must not exceed 1 PPM.

Larger ocean fish--including swordfish, shark, king mackerel. and tilefish--usually contain the highest amounts of methylmercury. Salmon, pollock, catfish, and shrimp are among the five most widely eaten fish lowest in mercury content.

The amounts of methylmercury vary among different fish types and even within species (see chart for examples). For instance, research suggests that canned light tuna is lower in mercury than white albacore tuna, while bluefin and big-eye tuna have significantly higher levels.

Experts generally agree that the risk posed by mercury contamination is low for most people (including men) who eat fish as part of a normal diet. Most advisories regarding mercury in fish pertain to pregnant women and young children.


Here's a look at mercury levels and omega-3 content for
various fish. Mercury is measured in mean parts per
million (PPM), while Omega-3s are given in grams per
cooked 3-ounce serving. The U.S. Food and Drug
Administration requires that mercury levels in fish
sold in the U.S. must not exceed 1 PPM.

FISH                  MERCURY      OMEGA-3

Tilefish                 1.45         0.90

Shark                    0.98         0.83

Swordfish                0.97         0.97

King mackerel            0.73         0.36

Tuna (fresh, frozen)     0.39          0.2

Halibut                  0.24          0.5

Tuna (canned, light)     0.13         0.24

Cod                      0.11          0.1

Pollock                  0.03          0.5

Salmon (fresh, frozen)   .022          1.9

Crab                      .06          0.3

Salmon (canned)             0          1.0

Shrimp                      0         0.29

Sources; U.S. Department of Agriculture Nutrient Database
for Standard Reference; U.S Food and Drug Administration;
American Heart Association

The risks must be weighed against the many benefits of eating fish, Jeffers advises. Fish contain vitamins A and D, calcium, iron, niacin, zinc, and other nutrients. Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and lake trout, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Numerous studies suggest that these polyunsaturated fats are good for brain health and can improve cardiovascular health. Plus, you can lower your calorie and fat intake by substituting healthful fish for fattier meats, like beef.

"Fish is a great source of protein," Jeffers says. "Its omega-3 essential fatty acids promote so many positive things in the body, and it has many cardiovascular benefits. ... Really, you'd have to have something like king mackerel or swordfish daily for the mercury to build up."


Jeffers recommends eating at least two 6-ounce servings of fish per week. Poach, grill or broil your fish; avoid fried or breaded fish that can add fat and calories and negate some of the benefits of fish consumption. And, eat a variety of fish to gain an array of nutrients and potentially lessen your exposure to a given toxin.

"Different types of fish have different levels of mercury," she says. "Just be aware of which fish have higher amounts of mercury, and vary them throughout the week. There are so many choices out there that would not put you at risk."

Some people who don't like fish but still want omega-3s turn to fish oil supplements. Since high doses (3 grams per day or more) of omega-3s can increase bleeding risk, talk to your doctor before taking these supplements.

Several recent studies have cast doubt on how helpful omega-3 supplements are at preventing chronic diseases or complications from them. In one study, published Oct. 30, 2012, in the British Medical Journal, researchers reported that the supplements provided no protection against stroke, but people who ate more fatty fish reduced their stroke risk by as much as 12 percent.

Another omega-3 option is plant sources, such as soybeans, flaxseed, canola, and walnuts and their oils. These sources contain alpha-linolenic acid, which your body can convert to omega-3. "It's easy to incorporate some ground flaxseed into your diet," Jeffers says. "You can put some in your oatmeal and get the health benefits that way."
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Title Annotation:NUTRITION
Publication:Men's Health Advisor
Date:Mar 1, 2013
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