(Along with its “Sidekicks:” Alaskan Halibut, Canned Albacore Tuna, Sardines, Herring, Trout, Sea Bass, Oysters, and Clams)
A source of:
- Marine-derived omega-3 fatty acids
- B vitamins
- Calcium (when canned with bones)
- Vitamin D
Salmon has received a great deal of attention because of its health-promoting benefits. It is recognized as a SuperFood and research continues to highlight the wisdom of including salmon and its sidekicks routinely in your diet. While salmon is rich in protein, B vitamins, potassium, and other important minerals, it’s the ample supply of omega-3 fatty acids that makes it such a standout among health-promoting foods.
The story of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet is an interesting one. There are two fatty acids—essential because the body can’t manufacture them and must rely on dietary supplies—that are vital to health. They are omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Both of these fatty acids are similar in molecular structure and compete for entry into the cell membranes around each cell in our body. Once upon a time, about a century ago, Americans got a significant percentage of their dietary fat from free-range animals. This source of fat had high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. A century later, two important changes in our diet have resulted in a dramatic shift in our essential-fatty-acid balance. Our meats are much lower in omega-3 fatty acids. Since these animals are no longer primarily free range, their diets are now rich in omega-6s and thus so are the meats they produce. Moreover, our packaged foods are high in omega-6 fatty acids, due to the increasing use of corn, safflower, cottonseed, and sunflower oils that are used to produce them.
The end result of these two critical changes is that crucial health-promoting omega-3 fatty acids have been crowded out of our diets. Researchers speculate that due to this gradual change in the source of fatty acids the effect on both our mental and physical health could be seismic. For one thing, the body relies on a rich source of omega-3 to build flexible and efficient cell membranes. A cell membrane that is deficient in omega-3s will function poorly and will put you at risk for a host of diseases including stroke, heart attack, cardiac arrhythmias, some forms of cancer, insulin resistance, asthma, hypertension, age-related macular degeneration, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), autoimmune disorders, attention-deficit disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and depression.
There is little doubt that if you want to preserve your health, you should increase the food sources of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, while at the same time decrease your intake of omega-6s.
Increasing your intake of omega-3s can play an important role in promoting cardiovascular health. Omega-3 fatty acids promote the production of anti-inflammatory hormone-like substances known as prostaglandins. These prevent platelets from sticking together and thus promote blood flow. Omega-3s also improve the ratio of good to bad cholesterol and lower triglycerides (another form of fat that may be more dangerous than elevated cholesterol). Omega-3s also stabilize your heartbeat, thus preventing cardiac arrhythmias that can lead to sudden death.
Omega-3s are also important players in the effort to reduce elevated blood pressure. Evidence has shown that the more omega-3 fatty acids you consume, the lower your blood pressure, so this should be reason enough to make fish a regular part of your diet.
Salmon and their sidekicks also promote heart health by possibly lowering the risk of atrial fibrillation—one of the most common types of heart arrhythmias.
A fascinating body of research has shown that omega-3s can promote mental health. When you consider that your brain is 60 percent fat, it makes sense that the type of fat could affect its functioning. Perhaps the most intriguing research on omega-3 fatty acids has suggested that the plague of mental health problems witnessed in the 21st century, including depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, dementia, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and Alzheimer’s disease, could be due in part to the lack of sufficient omega-3s in our diet.
Another amazing insight is that two servings of salmon per week, given to pregnant women starting at week twenty, have been shown to decrease the blood vessel inflammation in their fetuses. This indicates that cardiovascular benefits to a baby may begin even before birth. The designers of the study stated that exposure to omega-3 in utero could possibly modulate gene expression through epigenetic changes and lead to a decreased susceptibility to atherosclerosis (and thus the development of cardiovascular disease) later in life.
Some other important findings of omega-3s and health:
Another interesting study found that for people over sixty-five, eating at least one fish meal a week could reduce their risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. And it’s not only young adults and older folks who benefit from salmon and its sidekicks when it comes to mental health and performance. One study found a correlation between salmon and tuna and mental performance in midlife. The five-year study of 1,613 people found that eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids several times each week reduced the risk of impaired overall cognitive function by almost 20 percent.
Pregnant or nursing women, women of childbearing age, and children should look at the EPA website before consuming tuna.
*This brief summary contains copyrighted material from SuperFoods HealthStyle by Steven G. Pratt, M.D. and Kathy Matthews. Copyright © 2006 by Steven G. Pratt, M.D. and Kathy Matthews Inc., published by HarperCollins; and from SuperFoods Rx For Pregnancy by Steven Pratt, M.D. Copyright © 2013 by SuperFoods Partners, LLC, published by Wiley. All rights reserved.