• Researchers have found that eating more fish may help prevent recurrent heart disease.
  • The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish may help by reducing inflammation.
  • At least two servings per week are recommended.
  • Oily fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, and cod are the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

For those with heart disease, researchers at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, say it may be a good idea to add more fish to their diet.

In particular, adding at least two servings per week of oily fish can be beneficial, they say.

This level of consumption was linked to a lower risk of major cardiovascular disease and death.

What the study found

In their studyTrusted Source, the research team performed an analysis of four large studies, which included 191,558 participants from 58 countries.

They examined fish consumption among the participants, as well as deaths and major cardiovascular events, like heart attack, stroke, congestive heart failure, and sudden death.

What they found in their analysis of the data was that in people with existing cardiovascular disease, those who ate at least 175 grams (about two servings) per week of fish had a lower risk of death and major cardiovascular disease.

However, among people without existing cardiovascular disease, fish consumption did not appear to confer any benefit.

In addition, the type of fish that had the strongest benefit were those containing larger amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.

According to Jerlyn Jones, MS, MPA, RDN, LD, CLT, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, omega-3 fatty acids are a type of unsaturated fat.

The omega-3 fatty acids include EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

“Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce inflammation throughout the body, therefore lowering the risk for cardiovascular disease in [people at] high risk,” Jones explained.

What these findings mean for us

According to lead co-author Andrew Mente, associate professor of research methods, evidence, and impact at McMaster, and a principal investigator at the Population Health Research Institute, eating fish can provide a “significant protective benefit.”

Mente feels that the study will have an important impact on guidelines for fish consumption, especially oily varieties that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Increasing the amount of fish in the diet can have “modest cardiovascular benefit,” he said.

He further noted that, while people who are at low risk for cardiovascular disease can also benefit from eating more fish, those benefits were “less pronounced” in the study than those obtained by individuals at higher risk.

Jones additionally explained that this information is even more important during times like the COVID-19 pandemic.

“[I]t’s important to eat well to keep your immune system in top condition and your heart healthy,” she said. “Start with choosing omega-rich fish along with plant-based omega-3 fatty acids as part of a healthy dietary pattern to lower risk of cardiovascular risk during the pandemic and beyond.”

She also suggested adding hemp hearts or ground flaxseed to cereals, yogurt and salads, or simply snack on edamame or walnuts as additional options.

“Seek out a registered dietitian nutritionist in your area for a more personalized eating plan,” she added.

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Dietary guidelines for fish consumption

“The best way we can obtain the benefits of fish consumption,” said Jones, “is by eating at least two servings, or 8 ounces, of omega-3-rich fish a week.

Jones suggests choosing fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, and cod.

Herring, lake trout, and mackerel are also good options, she said.

For those who don’t enjoy the taste of fish, Jones said that certain plant foods also contain an omega-3 fatty acid called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid).

“You can find it in walnuts, soybeans, chia seeds, hemp hearts, ground flaxseeds, and various oils such as flaxseed oil, and walnut oil,” explained Jones.

“Cereals, pasta, dairy, and other food products are fortified with omega-3 fatty acids.”

Regarding fish oil supplements, which are often touted as a simple way to supplement our intake of omega-3 fatty acids, Jones said the evidence is unclear whether they will help those at risk for cardiovascular disease. Data is also limited for those who do not have heart disease.

Jones suggests erring on the side of caution by asking a doctor or registered dietitian nutritionist to determine if fish oil supplementation is right for you.

She further suggests that if we do supplement, a simple way to get the best quality supplement is to check the label for verification from an independent organization like the United States Pharmacopeia or the National Formulary, which evaluate supplement quality and create standards together.

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