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Ask the doctor: Fish for heart health: Proceed with caution

Q. Can you tell me the best type of fish to eat for heart health?

A. There’s strong scientific evidence that eating several fish meals per week reduces your risk of heart disease. Fish contains lean protein (less unhealthy saturated fat than red meat) and heart-healthy omega-3 fats. One of the most important benefits of omega-3 fats is that they quiet inflammation—which, in turn, reduces the risk from artery-clogging plaques of atherosclerosis. While it still is uncertain whether fish oil supplements bring heart benefits, there is little doubt that regular meals of fish do. To my knowledge, no type of fish is more heart-healthy than any other.

Image: Thinkstock

Eating salmon may lower your risk of heart disease.

However, fish do contain small amounts of toxic substances—particularly mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls—and there is a difference in the amount of these contaminants found in different types of fish. Even though these toxins are present in only small amounts, they can cause problems for children in the womb or during childhood. Therefore, to be on the safe side, children and women of childbearing age should generally avoid the fish that contain the highest levels of these contaminants—shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish. With regard to canned tuna, it’s best to avoid albacore (white tuna). It’s okay for children or women of childbearing age to have two meals per week of seafood that contains lower levels of contaminants—salmon, pollock, catfish, anchovies, herring, cod, haddock, halibut, sardines, crab, oysters, tilapia, and shrimp. A complete listing of mercury levels in fish is available at our website: health.harvard.edu/mercury.

For men and older women, the risks from fish are very small—and the benefits of regular fish meals for heart health are very large. I eat a fish meal at least three times a week—because I love the taste as well as the protection it offers my heart.

—Anthony L. Komaroff, M.D.
Editor in Chief
Harvard Health Letter

Posted by: Dr.Health

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