Is fish consumption the reason why the rate of heart disease is so low among the Japanese? In his book The Starch Solution, Dr. John McDougall suggests that it is not fish that is the secret to the longevity and slender bodies of Japanese people eating a traditional Japanese diet, but rather the rice that is the mainstay of their meals. In Japan, McDougall says, “only small amounts of fish are eaten as a condiment atop a bowl of rice.”
Fish are known to be a source of mercury, which is a potentially toxic contamination. And yet, plenty of health organizations, such as the American Heart Association and the British Dietetic Association recommend eating fish for heart health. So is it important to eat fish or better to avoid it for maximum heart health?
Both fish and fish oil, which is often recommended as a source of Omega-3 fatty acids, are high in protein, fat and cholesterol. They also contain zero carbohydrates or dietary fiber. In these ways, fish is similar to red meat, pork and chicken. And yet, doctors often recommend fish a better alternative to meat and chicken.
In 2006, the British Medical Journal reviewed over 15,000 scientific articles on the health claims of fish and found that “Long chain and shorter chain omega-3 fats do not have a clear effect on total mortality, combined cardiovascular events, or cancer.” That means that after researchers worked with almost 37,000 patients eating fish for greater health, no scientifically valid improvements in longevity, heart health or cancer could be identified.
That’s saying a lot.
Like beef and pork, fish raises cholesterol levels. Additionally, there are studies that show that people taking fish oil supplements or eating enough fish to raise the mercury levels in their bodies, were actually at greater risk for heart disease, due to the mercury levels.
Another downside of fish is what they are fed before they feed you. In order to cut expenses, farmed fish are often fed cheap oils like palm oil or linseed oil. When you eat the fish that were raised on cheap oils, you could be eating fats that are the worst in terms of heart health.
Bottom line? The advice to switch from meat and chicken to fish in order to prevent heart disease is not scientifically sound. To learn more, read the chapter called “Confessions of a Fish Killer” in McDougall’s The Starch Solution.
Author: Rebeca Espinoza