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Heart-Healthy Eating: Fish

Topic Overview

As part of a healthy diet, eat at least two servings of fish each week. Oily fish, which contain omega-3 fatty acids, are best. These fish include salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, and sardines.

Fish as part of a heart-healthy diet

Fish is an important part of a heart-healthy diet. A heart-healthy diet is not just for people who have existing health problems. It is good for all healthy adults and children older than age 2. Learning heart-healthy eating habits now can help prevent problems in years to come. Eating a heart-healthy diet can help you to:

  • Lower your blood pressure.
  • Lower your cholesterol.
  • Help lower your risk of coronary artery disease.
  • Reach and stay at a healthy weight.
  • Prevent or control diabetes.
  • Improve your overall health.

Stroke

Eating more than two servings of fish a week may lower your risk for stroke or TIA. Oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel, and herring) may lower your risk more than other types of fish.footnote 1

Fish safety

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommend that women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children should not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, bigeye tuna, or tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, because these fish have higher mercury concentrations. But for middle-aged and older people, the protection fish offer the heart outweighs the risks of eating these fish. Eating a variety of fish may reduce the amount of mercury you eat.footnote 2

Fish oil supplements

Sometimes people who don't eat fish take fish oil supplements. Some doctors think fish oil might help the heart because it has the omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish. But other doctors don't recommend these supplements to help the heart. That's because research has not proved that fish oil is helpful for everyone.footnote 3

If you have:footnote 3

  • Heart failure or have had a heart attack, supplements may have some benefit for you.
  • Other heart problems, supplements have not been shown to help your heart.
  • No heart problems, fish oil supplements have not been shown to help your heart.

Other foods that have omega-3 fatty acids

If you don't eat fish, you can get omega-3 fats from foods such as omega-3 eggs, walnuts, flax seeds, and canola oil.

Most of these foods have a different kind of omega-3 fatty acid (called ALA) than the kinds of omega-3 fatty acids you get from eating oily fish (called DHA and EPA). There is not enough good research about whether foods with ALA help the heart.

References

Citations

  1. Chowdhury R, et al. (2012). Association between fish consumption, long chain omega 3 fatty acids, and risk of cerebrovascular disease: Systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ. Published online October 30, 2012 (doi:10.1136/bmj.e6698).
  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2017). Eating fish: What pregnant women and parents should know. U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/Metals/ucm393070.htm. Accessed April 3, 2017.
  3. Siscovick DS, et al. (2017). Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (fish oil) supplementation and the prevention of clinical cardiovascular disease: A science advisory from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 135(15): e867–e884. DOI: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000482. Accessed April 10, 2017.

Other Works Consulted

  • Eckel RH, et al. (2013). 2013 AHA/ACC guideline on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/2013/11/11/01.cir.0000437740.48606.d1.citation. Accessed December 5, 2013.

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerRakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo, MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerColleen O'Connor, PhD, RD - Registered Dietitian
Kathleen M. Fairfield, MD, MPH, DrPH - Internal Medicine

Current as ofDecember 6, 2017


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