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Benefits of Fish and Shellfish

Known as brain and heart food, fish and shellfish are loaded with healthy benefits.  Because of the nutrients found in fish and shellfish, the American Heart Association recommends people eat this food type twice weekly.  With high levels of protein, nutrients, and vitamins, most fish is excellent to improve and maintain good health.  In fact, fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which provide the heart with protection.


As with any food, you want to choose the right fish and shellfish.  Most species are fine but some types of fish contain high levels of mercury.  In small amounts and to the normal person, this contaminant would not be a problem.  However, in children and pregnant women, mercury can have devastating effects.  For this reason, many doctors suggest that pregnant women avoid fish altogether while pregnant, while other doctors simply steer patients away from fish such as tuna, which is often high in mercury.  The same would be true for children, choosing fish and shellfish that has little to no mercury content.

Other benefits associated with eating fish and shellfish twice weekly include reduced risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as a lowering of blood pressure.  In fact, medical studies show that eating fish twice a week can actually lower the risk of stroke by as much as 27%.  Of course, if you were to increase the number of meals weekly that includes fish or shellfish the percentage increases.  Then, as mentioned, fish is also known as brain food because thrombotic infarctions, which are strokes caused by blood clots in the brain, are significantly reduced.

Regardless of the type of fish or shellfish you prefer, it is imperative that it be cooked properly.  For instance, the omega-3 fatty acids that are so health beneficial can be destroyed by air, light, and heat.  For this reason, fish needs to be cooked so it is done but never overcooked.  For this reason, the best methods of cooking fish and shellfish include broiling, baking, poaching, stir-frying, grilling, sautéing, and steaming, allowing the fish to retain its nutrients.  The one method you want to avoid, which is often people’s favorite, is deep-frying.  Sure, shrimp and other types of fish cooked this method have a wonderful flavor and crunchy texture but the nutrients are destroyed.

Many people simply do not like fish or shellfish.  If this is you, the health benefits can still be enjoyed by choosing fish oil supplements instead.  These supplements can be found at local drug stores, grocery stores, and health food stores, providing the same benefits as eating fish twice a week.  The only downside is that some people have reported gassy stomachs and even a fish-like breath while taking fish oil supplements.  While supplements are an excellent alternative to eating fish, it is imperative that you purchase quality fish oil in that some supplements on the market are worthless.

Other options for getting enough omega-3 fatty oil come from sources other than fish and shellfish.  For instance, you can get the same benefits as eating fish twice a week by incorporating some vegetables, tofu, certain nuts, and oils to include flaxseed, canola, and soybean to your diet.  For children and pregnant women, these alternatives are excellent.  In addition to eliminating the risk of mercury poisoning, you still get the needed omega-3 fatty acids.

Recent studies have been performed that show omega-3 fatty acids are far more beneficial than initially thought.  Some of the other areas in which fish and shellfish can boost the body include:

• Improvement of psoriasis, arthritis, and kidney disease
• Elimination of some cancers
• Better kidney function for people with diabetes

As mentioned, fish and shellfish are great for the diet but for pregnant women, precautions have been given by the United States Food and Drug Administration.  In this case, certain fish to include tuna, king mackerel, swordfish, and shark should be avoided altogether or not consumed more than once every month or two.  The reason is that levels of mercury in these fish are beyond what the FDA considers safe for human consumption.  Now, while non-pregnant women could eat this fish, mercury during pregnancy affects the unborn child’s nervous system, causing serious damage.  Other fish such as walleye and pike, which are freshwater fish, also contain levels of mercury too high for pregnant women.

If pregnant, you should talk to your doctor before eating fish or shellfish.  Chances are that you would be told eating up to 12 ounces of cooked fish weekly would be fine, which would include farm raise fish such as rainbow trout, canned fish, and even most shellfish.  In this case, these species are a great source of protein needed by expectant mothers.  Again, if you are unsure, talk to your doctor first.
 
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