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Dr. Weil’s Pick for a Heart-Healthy Fish

One of Dr. Weil’s favorite foods, wild-caught Alaskan salmon provides key nutritional benefits with every bite. Find out what makes it so healthy – especially when it comes to the health of your heart!

Salmon - particularly wild-caught Alaskan salmon and canned sockeye salmon - is one of Dr. Weil's favorite foods. Salmon is readily available fresh, frozen and canned, making it a versatile choice, and it can be easily prepared to satisfy a wide variety of individual tastes. But the most compelling reason to eat salmon regularly is its nutritional benefits, including:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids, the anti-inflammatory, essential fats our bodies need for optimum health. Omega-3s from eating salmon and other oily fish offer protection against heart attack, stroke, cancer, inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, and mental and emotional problems.
  • High-quality protein. A bonus is that salmon offers an abundance of quality protein: roughly 22 grams for every 100-gram serving.

Aim for two to six servings of wild-caught salmon per week, and use healthful cooking methods such as baking, broiling, poaching, or steaming. If you don't eat fish, you can opt for a high-quality fish oil.

Is Tilapia Unhealthy?

Dr. Weil recommends fish as part of his Anti-Inflammatory Diet, but farm-raised tilapia isn’t one of his top choices. Find out why – and what fish is a healthier option.

Farm-raised tilapia is one of the most commonly consumed fish in America, yet it has very low levels of beneficial omega-3 fats compared to its content of omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6's are essential, but the American diet typically includes far too much of this kind of fat. An overabundance of dietary omega-6 is pro-inflammatory, and inflammation is a key contributor to many chronic health conditions. 

In addition, farmed fish (tilapia or not) are raised in crowded conditions that are unnatural - and to help prevent infection they are given antibiotics. This means the fish are likely to contain residues of antibiotics and other synthetic compounds used to control diseases that occur when fish are crowded in pens. They may also have lower levels of protein - as much as 20 percent less - compared to wild fish, and higher concentrations of cancer-causing chemicals such as PCBs and dioxin. They represent environmental negatives as well – they are resource- and energy-intensive (it takes several pounds of feed fish to produce one pound of farmed fish) and do not protect dwindling wild stock.

Tilapia is not necessarily unhealthy, but I recommend reaching for the best fish of all - wild-caught Alaskan salmon. It has an impressive omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid ratio and is a species associated with fewer concerns about environmental toxins. While it is more expensive than tilapia, it is a worthy investment in your health that can reap dividends for the future. If you prefer white fish, look for wild-caught halibut or black cod as a healthy alternative.

Eat More Fish, Hold on to Hearing

Eating fish may help save your hearing, at least if you’re female. A new study from Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that consumption of two or more servings of fish per week was linked to a 20 percent lower risk of hearing loss compared to women who rarely ate fish. The researchers followed more than 65,000 women who participated in the long-running Nurses’ Health Study II from 1991 to 2009, during which 11,606 cases of hearing loss were reported. A lower risk of hearing loss was associated with eating all types of fish and shellfish, as well as with higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Earlier research had suggested a link between fish consumption and hearing loss, but this study is the first to identify a relationship over time between eating fish and self-reported hearing loss in women. Study leader Sharon G. Curhan, M.D., noted that while a decline in hearing is highly prevalent and often viewed as inevitable with aging, this study and other research suggest that there may be ways to prevent or delay it.

Source:
Sharon G. Curhan et al, “Fish and Fatty Acid Consumption and Hearing Loss in Women,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, doi: 10.3945/​ajcn.114.091819

What Fish Can Do for Your Brain

Here’s a strategy that could help you keep your wits about you as you age: eat baked or broiled fish at least once a week. A study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that seniors who routinely ate baked or broiled fish had larger brain volumes in areas linked to memory and cognition. The researchers were surprised to find that the connection between a weekly dish of broiled or baked fish and bigger brains seemed to be related to lifestyle factors (of which diet is one part), and go beyond the fish providing omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to help stave off age-related brain changes. The 260 seniors who participated in the study were cognitively normal when they joined a larger study of heart health in people over 65 and they all remained cognitively normal when tested later in the heart study. For the brain study, all the participants underwent high resolution MRI scans, which revealed brain volume in the two key areas. Those who reported eating broiled or baked fish weekly were more likely to have a college education than other study participants. Eating fried fish, however, provided no evidence of these benefits for the brain.

Sources:
Cyrus A. Raji and James T. Becker, et al “Regular Fish Consumption and Age-Related Brain Gray Matter Loss.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2014.05.037

5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Eat Farmed Fish

Wild-caught Alaskan salmon is a favorite food of many, but when buying salmon and other fish, it is important to know its origins. Farmed fish is not a better option than wild-caught fish. Most farmed fish:

  1. Have unfavorable ratios of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids to pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids – meaning you get less of the good omega-3s and more of the less healthy omega-6s.
  2. Are raised in crowded conditions that are unnatural – and to help prevent infection they are given antibiotics. This means the fish are likely to contain residues of pesticides, antibiotics and other synthetic compounds used to control diseases that occur when fish are crowded in pens.
  3. May have lower levels of protein - as much as 20 percent less - compared to wild fish, making it a less valuable source of this essential nutrient.
  4. May have higher concentrations of cancer-causing chemicals such as PCBs and dioxin.
  5. Are resource- and energy-intensive (it takes several pounds of feed fish to produce one pound of farmed fish) and do not protect dwindling wild stock.

Choose wild-caught salmon, especially from the Pacific fisheries - they are more sustainably fished and have a larger, more stable population. If wild-caught salmon is cost-prohibitive, canned salmon (choose products containing salmon from wild, not farmed, sources) is a good alternative.

Eating Anti-Inflammatory Made Simple
Take the guesswork out of a healthful diet with Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging. Our shopping and eating guides, over 300 recipes, tips and videos follow Dr. Weil's recommended anti-inflammatory principles for promoting better health, from head to toe. See what it's about - start your free trial today and save 30% when you join!

Eat Fish, Improve Cholesterol

Researchers in Finland have found that eating salmon and other oily fish three or four times a week positively changes HDL, the “good” cholesterol that protects against heart disease. Eating lots of oily fish is associated with increased numbers of larger-sized HDL particles. That’s a desirable change, since large HDL particles are the most effective at sweeping up deposits of cholesterol that build up on artery walls and raise the risk of heart attack. The study participants ate fatty fish such as salmon, rainbow trout and herring prepared without butter or cream. The study didn’t reveal whether participants who ate low-fat fish had similar benefits, but the researchers noted that other studies have suggested that eating low-fat fish can help control blood pressure.

My take? This study gives us new insight into how eating oily fish affects HDL and benefits health, and it confirms that to get those benefits you have to eat fish frequently – three or four times a week. Epidemiology shows us that populations eating fish regularly have increased longevity and experience less chronic disease than populations that do not include fish as part of their traditional diets. Fish provides high-quality protein without the saturated fat present in meat and poultry. Wild salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and bluefish are all rich in the omega-3 fatty acids needed for optimum health.

Eating Anti-Inflammatory Made Simple
Take the guesswork out of a healthful diet with Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging. Our shopping and eating guides, over 300 recipes, tips and videos follow Dr. Weil's recommended anti-inflammatory principles for promoting better health, from head to toe. See what it's about - start your free trial today and save 30% when you join!

Sources:
Maria Lankinen et al “Effects of Whole Grain, Fish and Bilberries on Serum Metabolic Profile and Lipid Transfer Protein Activities: A Randomized Trial (Sysdimet)”, PLOS One DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0090352

Fishy Approach to Rheumatoid Arthritis

Eating at least one weekly serving of fish seems to help cut the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis by 35 percent.Eating at least one weekly serving of fish – of any kind – seems to help cut the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis by 35 percent, and regular long-term (for at least a decade) consumption of omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish such as salmon reduces the risk by 50 percent. This finding, from a study at Sweden’s famed Karolinska Institutet, supports the conclusions from an earlier Swedish study showing a 20 percent reduction in the risk of rheumatoid arthritis among both men and women who reported eating at least one serving of fatty fish per month. The researchers reviewed detailed diet questionnaires completed by 32,232 midlife and older Swedish women, 205 of whom were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis over an average of about eight years. The Karolinska team concluded that the lower risk of rheumatoid arthritis seen among participating women seemed to be associated with the omega-3s the women were getting from the fish in their diet. The investigators looked at how often the women reported eating fish, not their use of fish oil supplements. The study was published online on August 12, 2013 by the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases.

Source:
Alicja Wolk, et al "Long-term intake of dietary long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and risk of rheumatoid arthritis: a prospective cohort study of women." Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases   2013 DOI: 10.1136/annrheumdis-2013-203338.