Fish-eaters may be focusing on healthy foods
Recent news reports questioned the health benefits of eating fish. But, before you forgo the fish, you should know a few more details.
Question: What did the news reports say about fish?
Answer: People who eat more fish typically have better health. But, a new study in the May issue of the American Journal of Cardiology claims that these health benefits may not be due to the fish itself.
People who eat more fish tend to eat more of other healthy foods and less red meat. So, maybe it's not the fish.
Q: What did the study report?
A: This study analyzed nutrient intake data from a diabetes study completed in 1993. The study included about 1,400 insulin-dependent diabetic men and women who were given individualized meal plans that specified how much to eat and when to eat.
During the study, dietitians conducted in-depth interviews with participants and recorded details about their food intake. This produced a large amount of data on the estimated nutrient intake of these diabetic individuals.
The study in the recent news reports borrowed the dietary data from this diabetes study and analyzed it for relationships among various nutrients.
It found that diabetics who consumed more of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish tended to consume less calories, fat, and saturated fat and more fiber and cholesterol. Based on these statistics, the researchers speculated that the diabetics that ate more fish also ate more of other healthy foods. Based on this assumption, the researchers claimed that increased fish consumption may just be an indicator of other healthy habits and that fish may not directly affect the risk of heart disease.
Q: What is known about the health benefits of eating fish?
A: Thousands of studies have explored the health benefits of fish and especially the omega-3 fatty acids in fish, EPA and DHA. These fatty acids are known to reduce heart disease risk by increasing the "good" HDL cholesterol and decreasing triglycerides and blood pressure. Some recent studies have shown that these fatty acids are rapidly incorporated into heart tissues and directly benefit the electrical function of heart cells.
Also, since DHA is a major component of neural tissues in the brain and retina of the eye, other potential benefits of fish oils include mental health and vision.
Due to this extensive evidence for fish oil benefits, it might be considered unethical to conduct the definitive study that would randomly tell some people, "No fish for you."
, Ph.D., C.N.S. and Joannie Dobbs
, Ph.D., C.N.S. are
nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, UH-Manoa. Dr. Dobbs also works with the University Health Services and prepares the nutritional analyses marked with an asterisk in this section. See also: Health Events