If you still believe cholesterol is the root cause of heart disease, then you probably also believe fish and other seafood, which naturally contain cholesterol, don’t belong in a heart-healthy diet. In both cases, however, you’d be wrong.
Cholesterol is not the root cause of heart disease. So, the cholesterol in a serving of fish or seafood does not negatively affect heart health. In fact, the American Heart Association has long recommended eating 2 servings of fish every week as a way to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Why Is Eating Fish Healthy for Your Heart?
Fish is a great source of high-quality protein, but what makes fish a truly heart-healthy choice is the healthy fats it contains. Most seafood is high in essential fatty acids (EFAs)—particularly omega-3 fats, which are absolutely critical for heart health.
Omega-3 fats promote a healthy cardiovascular system by:
- Supporting healthy platelet function, so that your blood clots as it should
- Enhancing your body’s production of nitric oxide, in order to ensure healthy blood pressure
- Reducing inflammation—which is critical, since inflammation is the top risk factor for developing heart disease
The amount of medical research documenting the link between omega-3 benefits and improved cardiovascular health is impressive. For instance, in a study published in 1995, participants who ate just one fatty fish meal per week—such as salmon, anchovy, or mackerel—experienced a 50 percent reduction in cardiac death.
More recently, in a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found that those with higher blood levels of omega-3s (both seafood and plant based) were about 10% less likely to die from a heart attack when compared to those with lower omega-3 blood levels.
The Healthiest Fish to Eat
Although the cholesterol in fish is not a health concern, some fish can contain high amounts of mercury and other toxic contaminants, which can cause a whole host of other health problems. The amount of toxins in fish generally depends on the type of fish and where it was raised and caught.
Large, longer-living fish that prey on smaller fish tend to accumulate higher concentrations of mercury and should, therefore, be avoided.
Fish On the “Do-Not-Eat” List:
- Orange roughy
In addition, farm-raised fish tend to have much higher insecticide and pesticide concentrations and should be avoided as well.
Good Heart-Healthy Fish Choices:
- Alaskan salmon
- Atlantic halibut
These wild-caught, migratory, cold-water fatty fish offer the most omega-3 heart health benefits.
There’s no doubt in my mind that eating the right kinds of fish offers a wide array of heart health benefits, which is why I recommend eating fish over meat and poultry as often as possible as part of your heart-healthy eating plan.