Protect Yourself Against Heart Disease with Fish

Learn how fish keeps you healthy, and discover how to reap the rewards.

The Greenland Inuit eat an incredibly high-fat diet with few vegetables, yet their rate of heart disease is stunningly low. Chalk it up to all the fatty fish they eat: The staple food in their diet is fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids. You’ve probably heard by now that omega-3s fend off heart disease — something that could be right around the corner if your blood sugar is stuck in overdrive. It’s no wonder fish makes our list of Magic foods.

A study at the Harvard School of Public Health found that women with diabetes who ate fish just once a week had a 40 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease than did women with diabetes who ate fish less than once a month.

But omega-3s do more than protect your heart. They also quell inflammation in the body, a major contributor to numerous chronic diseases of aging, including insulin resistance and diabetes. It may even play a role in brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s as well as certain cancers.

Of course, fish is also a protein food, and protein foods have virtually no impact on blood sugar. We suggest that you aim to eat fish for dinner once or twice a week when you might otherwise have chicken or beef. Make it baked, broiled, pan-fried, stewed, or grilled. Just don’t make it fast food or deep fried, like fish and chips or a fish sandwich. Loaded with bad-for-you fats, this fare just isn’t the same kettle of fish. One study found eating fried fish and fish sandwiches offered no heart benefits at all.

All fish contain some omega-3s, but fatty types such as albacore tuna, salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, and sardines are richest in them.

Health Bonus
While the strongest proof of the health benefits of fish points to the heart, there’s also plenty of research showing that food with fins can cut the risk of prostate cancer and help maintain brain power as you age. There’s also evidence that fatty fish may help defend against depression.

Glycemic Load: Very low

One of the keys to successful fish dishes is buying the freshest fish possible. Here’s what to look for.

For whole fish

  • Shop at a busy fish counter. Lots of customers mean lots of turnover and fresher fish.
  • The fish’s eyes should be clear, not cloudy.
  • The inside of the gills should be bright red, not grayish or even pink.
  • It shouldn’t smell bad. Fish should have a moist, almost musky smell like a cucumber or melon’s.

For fish fillets

  • They should be moist and firm.
  • If there are gaps or separations in the flesh, it’s not fresh.
  • They shouldn’t smell fishy. Fresh fish will keep in the fridge for a day or two, but cook it as soon as possible or freeze it for up to six months. Don’t bypass frozen fillets. Vacuum-packed sole, cod, or salmon fillets are the next best thing to fresh.

Menu Magic
Fish makes a perfect weeknight meal because it’s done before you know it.

  • Fire up the grill; almost any type of fish tastes fabulous grilled, especially salmon. Brush it with a little olive oil to keep it from sticking. Throw some zucchini strips on the grill, too, and you have a blood sugar–friendly meal. (Add a side of whole grains such as a bulgur dish.)
  • Wrap trout in foil with lemon slices, dill, thyme, salt, and pepper and bake. Serve over quinoa.
  • Squeeze fresh lemon juice over fish seasoned with rosemary and sautéed on the stove. Serve with brown rice pilaf.
  • Stuff a tomato with tuna salad made with low-fat mayonnaise or plain yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, chopped apples, celery, and onion. Serve with whole wheat crackers.
  • If you’re a fan of sardines, try this: Sauté some onion and garlic in olive oil, then add sardines canned in tomato sauce. When thoroughly heated, pour the mixture over whole wheat pasta and toss. Top with lemon juice and grated Parmesan.
  • Pickled herring is another acquired taste, but it may be worth acquiring — check out its extraordinarily high omega-3 content in the chart on the facing page. As an appetizer, try pickled herring on small squares of whole grain rye toast, sprinkled with chopped parsley and hot paprika.

Perfect Portion: 3 ounces (85 g)
If you are having fish as your main meal of the day, a serving of up to 6 ounces (170 g) is acceptable.