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Are Oil-rich Fish in Deep Water?

Dietitian Juliette Kellow reports on the latest findings that show increasing intake of omega 3 fats may not be so beneficial for reducing incidence of diseases.

Are Oil-rich Fish in Deep Water?

By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD

This month, the papers have been full of stories that contradict what many diet experts have believed for years – that omega-3 fats found in some plant oils and oily fish are good for our health.

A study published online by the British Medical Journal analysed 89 previously published studies, looking at the health effects of omega-3 fats on death rates, cardiovascular events, cancer and strokes.

The researchers concluded that it remained unclear whether increasing intakes of omega 3s actually reduced the incidence of these conditions but said that UK guidelines advising people to eat more oily fish should continue at present – although the evidence should be reviewed regularly.

Weight Loss Resources says:

No wonder we’re confused! After years of being told to eat more oily fish such as salmon, trout, fresh tuna, sardines and mackerel, we’re now being led to believe it might all have been in vain!

However, take heart in the fact that most experts still agree that omega 3 fats are important for health. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) continues to advise that people should eat at least two portions of fish per week, including one of oily fish. It says the findings of this new study don’t raise any new issues.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) agrees. Dr Mike Knapton, Director of Prevention and Care at the BHF says, “People should not stop consuming omega 3 fats or eating oily fish as a result of this study. Until now, medical research has demonstrated a benefit from omega 3 fats in protecting people from heart and circulatory disease.”

It’s also worth bearing in mind that as well as being linked with heart health, omega-3 fats have many other roles in the body that help to keep us healthy. For example, omega 3s are vital building blocks for our cells and are thought to be important for brain function, relieving the symptoms of inflammatory responses and vision.

In particular, developing babies require omega 3 fats to ensure their brains grow properly – poor intakes have been associated with impaired cognitive function and even low IQ.

There’s also evidence to link conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), depression and aggression to a lack of omega 3.

Furthermore, many inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, inflammatory kidney disease and inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, have been shown to respond to omega 3.

It’s also worth remembering that all fish is an excellent source of protein and contains essential vitamins and minerals, such as selenium and iodine. Plus oily fish is also a good source of vitamins A and D, as well as omega 3 fats. And let’s not forget the fact that foods like grilled salmon, fresh tuna on a salad nicoise or sardines on toast all taste great and add variety to our diets.

Our advice is to follow FSA guidelines that continue to recommend eating one serving of oil-rich fish every week.

Plus heed the words of the BHF’s Dr Knapton who sums things up perfectly. “Whatever amount of oily fish you consume, the impact on your risk of heart disease is negligible compared to the benefits of quitting smoking, doing regular exercise and eating a diet low in saturated fats.”

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