Why eating fish helps the heart


Omega-3 fatty acids in fish are good for the heart. Here’s why the heart benefits of eating fish generally outweigh the risks.

If you’re worried about your heart health, eating at least two servings of fish a week could lower your risk of heart disease. For many years, it has been recommended to eat fish high in unsaturated fats at least twice a week. The unsaturated fats in fish are called omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients found in fish may benefit heart health and reduce the risk of dying from heart disease.

Some people are concerned about mercury or other contaminants found in seafood. However, the benefits of eating fish as part of a healthy diet generally outweigh the possible risks of contaminant exposure.

What are omega-3 fatty acids, and why are they good for the heart?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of unsaturated fatty acid that can reduce inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation in the body can damage your blood vessels and lead to heart disease and stroke.

Omega-3 fatty acids may benefit heart health:

– By lowering triglycerides

– Slightly lowering blood pressure

– Reducing blood coagulation

– Decreasing the risk of vascular accidents and heart failure

– Reducing irregular heartbeats

Eat at least two servings of fish per week, especially fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, appears to reduce the risk of heart disease, especially sudden cardiac death.

Does the type of fish eaten matter ?

Although many types of seafood contain small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, fatty fish are the richest in omega-3 fatty acids and appear to be the most beneficial for heart health.

Good omega-3 rich fish options include:



Atlantic Mackerel



Lake Trout

Canned Light Tuna

How much fish should you eat?

The Health Nutrition Plan recommends fish as part of a healthy diet for most people. Pregnant, planning or breastfeeding women and young children should avoid eating fish that may be contaminated with mercury.

Adults should eat at least two servings of fish rich in omega-3 per week. One serving is approximately the size of a deck of cards.

Pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breastfeeding women should consume up to 135 grams of seafood per week, from a variety of choices less contaminated with mercury. Children should also eat fish from low-mercury choices once or twice a week. The portion for children under 2 years old is 50 grams and increases with age. In order to get the most health benefits from fish, care must be taken in how it is prepared. For example, it is healthier to grill, roast or bake fish than to fry it.

Does mercury contamination outweigh the health benefits fish consumption?

For most adults, the risk of absorbing too much mercury or other contaminants from fish is usually outweighed by the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. The main types of toxins found in fish are mercury, dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The amount of toxins depends on the type of fish and where it is caught.

Mercury occurs naturally in small amounts in the environment. But industrial pollution can produce mercury that accumulates in lakes, rivers and oceans, and ends up in the food that fish eat. When fish eat these foods, mercury builds up in their bodies.

Larger fish higher up the food chain eat smaller fish. This leads to an increase in mercury concentrations. The longer a fish lives, the bigger it grows and the more mercury it can accumulate. Fish that may contain higher levels of mercury include



King mackerel

Should you avoid eating fish due to concerns about mercury or other contaminants ?

If you eat enough fish containing mercury, the toxin can build up in your body. Although mercury is unlikely to cause health problems for most adults, it is particularly harmful to brain and nervous system development in unborn children and young children.

The following groups should limit the amount of fish they eat:

Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant

Nursing mothers

Young children

Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, nursing mothers and children can still enjoy the heart benefits of fish through a variety of seafood and fish that are generally low in mercury. Like salmon and prawns, and limiting their consumption:

No more than 340 grams of fish and seafood in total per week

No more of 110 grams of albacore tuna per week

No quantity of fish with high mercury content: shark, swordfish, king mackerel

Are there any other concerns with fish consumption?

Some researchers are concerned about eating fish produced in from farms rather than wild-caught fish. Due to antibiotics, pesticides and other chemicals used in fish farming. However, contaminant levels in commercial fish do not appear to have adverse health effects.

Can the same heart benefits be obtained by consuming other foods containing omega-3 fatty acids or taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements?

Consuming fish high in omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients appears to provide more benefits for the heart than taking dietary supplements. Other foods that don’t contain fish include certain omega-3 fatty acids:

Flaxseed and flaxseed oil


Rapeseed oil

Soybeans and soybean oil

Chia seeds

Green leafy vegetables

Cereals, pastas, dairy products and other food products fortified with omega-3 fatty acids

However, as with supplements, the evidence for heart benefits from consuming these foods is not as strong as for consuming fish.


Fish and omega-3 fatty acids. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/fish-and-omega-3-fatty-acids. Accessed Aug. 18, 2019.

Mozaffarian D. Fish oil and marine omega-3 fatty acids. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Aug. 18, 2019.

Yu E, et al. Cardiovascular disease prevention by diet modification. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2018;80: 914. doi: https://doi.org/11.1001/j.jacc.2016.10.80.

Goel A, et al. Fish, fish oils and cardioprotection: Promise or fish tale? International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2018;29: 3703. doi: .003177/ijms19123703.

Advice about eating fish. US Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/advice-about-eating-fish. Accessed Aug. 18, 2019.

Bowen KJ, et al.Omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease: Are there benefits? Current Treatment Options in Cardiovascular Medicine. 2016;18: 69. doi: .1007/ s11936-18-884-1.

Abdelhamid AS, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids for the primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease (review). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2018;18: CD3390. doi: .1001 /14651858.CD003177.pub4.

Willet W, et al. Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. The Lancet Commissions. 2019;393: 447.

Del Gobbo LC, et al. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid biomarkers and coronary heart disease. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2016;340: 115. doi: .1001/jamainternmed.2016.003177.

Siscovick DS, et al.Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (fish oil) supplementation and the prevention of clinical cardiovascular disease. Traffic. 2019;135:e914. doi: .2016/CIR. 884.

Oken E. Fish consumption and marine n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation during pregnancy. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Aug. 18, 2016.

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