The primary source for getting healthy fats in today's diet are fish high in omega 3 fatty acids. What makes certain fish high in omega 3? Cold water seems to be the common denominator. And the colder the fish, the higher the levels of omega 3 present.
Such fish, also referred to as "fatty" fish, have high amounts of the essential fatty acids DHA and EPA. These two omega 3 fatty acids have been well researched and shown to have many health benefits. Documented omega 3 benefits include improvement in heart and cardiovascular health, brain health, joint health, immune function as well as skin health.
Here is a list of some common fish high in omega 3 fatty acids, with the approximate level of omega 3 fats found in a 4-ounce serving:
Unfortunately, it's become difficult to find fish that's truly safe to eat. Due to environmental pollution, most fish today are contaminated with dangerous toxins like mercury, dioxins and PCBs. Recent studies have indicated that the high selenium content in fish can protect you from the mercury levels, but then there the other contaminants to consider.
Today, 80 percent of the seafood sold in America is imported, much of it from third world nations such as China, Vietnam and the Philippines, all of which tend to have poor food safety standards. And so, much of the fish sold in American supermarkets is contaminated with banned chemicals, poisons, carcinogens and high levels of antibiotics.
How badly are fish contaminated? A recent study sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts analyzed salmon fillets purchased in 16 large cities in North America and Europe. The samples included farmed and wild-caught fish from about 700 different sources, in eight major salmon-producing regions all over the globe.
They found significantly higher concentrations of contaminants such as PCBs, dioxins, dieldrin, and toxaphene in farmed salmon than in the wild varieties. Using EPA cancer risk parameters for these toxins, they recommended these limits on monthly consumption:
In most cases, consumption of more than one farmed salmon meal per month could pose unacceptable cancer risks! Although this was just one study, you'd have to assume that many other varieties of fish have an equal amount of toxins.
The Environmental Defense Fund website has a handy Seafood Selector to help you make smart choices about your next fish choice. The guide provides detailed information on the toxicity of dozens of individual varieties of fish and is indispensible for anyone who wants to eat fish regularly.
In light of these studies, I can only enthusiastically recommend eating wild-caught Alaskan salmon and sardines. These are probably the two cleanest varieties of fish that you can buy. If you're going to eat other fish, use the Seafood Selector or follow these general rules-of-thumb to limit the amount of toxins you're ingesting:
Always choose wild-caught fish instead of farm-raised varieties. Although most ocean fish do contain high levels of mercury and other toxins, they're still cleaner than fish raised in polluted ponds and fed a diet including antiobiotics and hormones. Farm-raised fish also have lower levels of omega 3 fatty acids due to their inferior diets. To get fish high in omega 3, stick with wild-caught varieties.
Lean toward smaller fish such as sardines, anchovies, herring and trout. Larger fish accumulate more toxins from all the smaller fish they eat.
Nothing helps more than having an honest and informed retailer that can tell you where his fish came from, although the truth is that you really never have a guarantee. Most retailers can't say for sure themselves because they're so far removed from the source.
As you can see, it's tricky to rely on regular consumption of fish high in omega 3 for your daily allowance. To insure that you get ample amounts, use omega 3 supplements made from fish high in omega 3 or krill oil.
Be wary of cheap drug-store varieties of fish oil. Many of them have been shown to have high levels of contaminants. To ensure purity, buy from reputable companies that make sure a supplement is certified to be toxin-free. See my page on omega 3 supplements for more details.
More information on omega 3 here: