Did this Groundbreaking Observation Lead to a Discovery of the Positive Relationship between Omega-3 Fatty Acids and a Healthy Heart?
Did you know that even though Eskimos in Greenland and pastry-loving Danes have a similar genetic makeup, the Eskimos enjoy lower cardiovascular disease mortality? (1)
That observation several decades ago led researchers to dig for an explanation of this phenomenon. They didn’t have to look too hard to realize differences in the lifestyles of the two groups.
In fact, they didn’t have to look past the kitchen table!
What they discovered is something many of us are now familiar with. What you eat matters. And, more specifically, when you eat fish you enjoy a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
That discovery naturally led to more questions. Why fish? Was it any fish? Or was there something special about the fish pulled from those cold North Atlantic waters that tipped the scales in favor of dietary health?
Let’s talk about that.
First: Why fish?
Fish, especially the more oily varieties, contain Omega-3 fatty acids. It’s true: You can get Omega-3’s from plant sources as well, such as olive oil, in the form of ALA; however, only fish sources provide DHA (Docosahexanoic Acid) and EPA (Eicosapentanoic Acid). Of those, some would argue that DHA is the most critical omega-3 fatty acid.
Research has shown a positive correlation between higher intakes of DHA and EPA and a lower risk of cardiac, cardiovascular, and sudden cardiac death. (2)
Will any fish do?
Just as all vegetables are not nutritionally equal; all fish are not equal in terms of quantity and quality of their Omega-3 content.
The American Heart Association recommends eating at least 2 servings of fish a week to get the heart health benefits of Omega-3’s which include:
- Decreased triglyceride levels,
- Slow growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque, and
- Lower blood pressure (slightly) and decreased risk of arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats), which can lead to sudden death. (3)
But here is the challenge:
- Are two servings enough? The risk of cardiovascular mortality is lower in Japan where that population typically consumes twice the amount of fish as the Western population. This would lead people in the States to wonder if the daily recommended minimums set by the AHA are adequate. Should we be eating more?
- There is a danger with eating some fish because of environmental contaminants such as mercury. So, not any fish will do.
So where’s the balance between “more” and “safe?”
What’s so special about North Atlantic fish?
What better place to start the search for quality fish then in the very same cold northern waters of the Atlantic, where the Eskimos originally caught the attention of scientists.
In Norway, fishing is the 2nd most important industry and the entire community has a sense of responsibility, pride, and purpose in protecting the ocean’s marine life and fragile ecosystem. (4)
Additionally, Norway has the distinct geographical advantage of being where the cold Arctic oceans meet the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. Clean waters and safe oceans ensure fish harvested from this region are the best quality.
Fisherman in the area will tell you their program for fish farms, aquaculture, is set to the highest standards. So, if you’re choosing a white fish such as cod, then the icy waters from way up north could be the best option.
However, as much as fish farming has become necessary and acceptable because of our love of salmon and all things fish, and the rising demand for year round access to the healthy benefits of fish, there is still evidence that wild caught fish provide higher levels of those nutrients we are after, such as Omega 3’s.
For that, I look to the cold northern waters of another region…
The reason for higher nutritional content from wild fish is the result of what they are eating in their natural environment. Rather than a grain-based feed which they may get in a farmed setting, wild fish consume sea life which is more natural for them. It’s what their ancestors ate…
Seems like, even for fish, they are what they eat! And as I always say – as often as possible…go wild!
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