Catch of the week: 8 ounces of fish in your diet

Americans need to eat more than twice the amount of fish they do now to reduce their risk of heart disease, according to the government’s new dietary guidelines, out today.
Currently, people consume an average of 3½ ounces of seafood a week, but adults should consume at least 8 ounces a week, the guidelines say.

Why advise such a major increase in seafood consumption?

“Research shows it reduces the risk of heart disease,” says Tom Vilsack, secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Ralph Sacco, president of the American Heart Association, agrees. “There’s good scientific evidence that people who eat fish have lower risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke,” he says.

The heart association recommends eating two or more servings (about 3½ ounces per serving) of fish a week, Sacco says. “Too few Americans are eating enough fish each week, so we applaud the USDA for adding this to their new guidelines.”

Seafood contributes nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, that are associated with reducing the risk of heart disease. Just how much a person should eat, however, has been a matter of debate because of the health risks associated with methyl mercury, a heavy metal found in seafood in varying levels.

The guidelines say the health benefits of eating a variety of seafood outweigh the risks associated with methyl mercury.

Some varieties that are relatively high in omega-3 acids and lower in mercury: salmon, anchovies, herring, sardines, Pacific oysters, trout, Atlantic and Pacific mackerel, flounder, crab, light canned tuna and catfish.

Elizabeth Ward, a registered dietitian in Boston, says, “I am happy that they are offering this seafood guideline, but I don’t think it’s easily achieved.

“Fish consumption is so pitifully low now that it will take time to get it up to the amount the guidelines are suggesting.”

In the meantime, for those who aren’t eating that much fish, she suggests they include foods fortified with omega-3 fatty acids such as some brands of eggs, milk and cheese.

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