The impact of fish as a food source

It is fairly well known in nutrition that fish provides the body with a good dose omega oils however, it’s important to think about the impact that fish consumption has on your health? With the amount of pollution being pumped into our oceans we should really take notice of the fact that this food source is not recommended for the young and pregnant women. So should we really be eating it?

Due to the vast depths of our oceans, we cannot summarise exactly how much pollution and waste is dumped into our seas. Pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, detergents and the more well known pollutants like oil, plastics and sewage all collect on the ocean bed and are consumed by marine life; it is from here these pollutants are introduced into the global food chain. National Geographic have even reported that scientists have discovered human pharmaceuticals (possibly from sewage) are ending up in the fish on your plate.

Why do we need omega oils?

In short, we need omega oils as they contribute to the fatty acids in the body. These fatty acids create and rebuild cells. They also produce hormone substances for physical functions so basically we need them to promote good health.

Unfortunately, our bodies don’t naturally produce the essential fatty acids (EFA) that we need so we need to ensure we are ingesting the two most important – omega 3 and 6.

Omega 3

Omega 3 produces Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) and is otherwise known as the daddy of all fatty acids. This is because all other forms of EFA can be created from ALA through food or within the body’s cells.

ALA can be found in certain vegetable oils like soybean, rapeseed and flaxseed and also in walnuts. It can also be obtained from green vegetables like kale, spinach and salad greens.

Chia-seeds1

Omega 6

We get linoleic acid from omega 6 and it is this acid that is predominantly found in fish. Omega 6 fatty acids lower cholesterol and reduce inflammation. It also protects against heart disease.

Dr Frank Sacks, Professor of Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at Harvard School of Public Health, discusses omegas in great depth and explains that we can still get the right oils, without the need for fish: “They are abundant in the Western diet; common sources include safflower, corn, cottonseed, and soybean oils.”

He also states there is no proof that either vegetable or fish fatty acids are equally beneficial however we know that we can get a good intake of omegas without the need to harm the environment or ingest toxins.

It is also possible for the body to convert one type of omega into another although we shouldn’t rely on it because it isn’t a hugely efficient process.

There is more detail on the differences between omega 3 – long and short chain formations – and omega 6 but I can see your eyes glazing over so if you want, you can find out more by reading this article at Mercola.com.

The dangers of fish

So that’s the science lesson over but what impact does eating fish have on our health and the environment?

Harvard School of Public Health says that high levels of mercury can damage nerves in adults and disrupt brain development in young children. Although there are not extreme levels of mercury found in consumable fish, there have been subtle changes in the nervous system development and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Subtle or not, it’s a big risk to take in the long term as we cannot be sure how these levels will change in the future. It is worth considering the danger level will go from subtle to high.

It isn’t just on our health that we have to consider, there is serious damage to our seas from overfishing, to keep up with the amount of fish we are consuming. Certain targets of fishing (i.e. sharks and tuna) will disrupt marine communities as a lack of these predators will cause a plethora of smaller marine animals. This will then affect the rest of the eco system such as health threats to coral reef. It is also fairly obvious that overfish will lead to the loss of billions of fish.

Chilean_purse_seine

Alternatives

There are plenty of alternatives to fish that will still maintain a healthy body. Chia and Hemp seeds both provide a good ratio of omega 3 to 6 and can be added to salads and porridge. There is plenty of dark green veggies and oils that you can introduce to ensure you are getting what you need but if you are genuinely concerned, then consider a daily supplement or speak with a nutritionist.

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