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Heart-Healthy Eating: Fish

British Columbia Specific Information

The BC Ministry of Health and BC Centre for Disease Control have developed recommendations that will help you and your family choose and eat fish that are low in mercury. To find out which fish are low, medium and high in mercury, see HealthLinkBC File #68m Food Safety: Mercury in Fish.

Additionally, BC oysters are high in cadmium. Health Canada recommends that adults eat a maximum of 12 BC oysters per month and that children eat a maximum of 1.5 BC oysters per month. For more information, see BCCDC - Cadmium in BC Shellfish.

 

Topic Overview

Eating fish may help lower your risk of coronary artery disease. As part of a heart-healthy diet, eat at least two servings of fish each week. Oily fish, which contain omega-3 fatty acids, are best for your heart. These fish include salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, and sardines.

Fish as part of a heart-healthy diet

Fish is an important part of a heart-healthy diet. A heart-healthy diet is not just for people who have existing health problems. It is good for all healthy adults and children older than age 2. Learning heart-healthy eating habits now can help prevent problems in years to come. Eating a heart-healthy diet can help you to:

  • Lower your blood pressure.
  • Lower your cholesterol.
  • Help lower your risk of coronary artery disease.
  • Reach and stay at a healthy weight.
  • Prevent or control diabetes.
  • Improve your overall health.

Stroke

Eating more than two servings of fish a week may lower your risk for stroke or TIA. Oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel, and herring) may lower your risk more than other types of fish.

Fish safety

According to Health Canada, most people should not eat more than 150 g (5.3 oz) per week of fish that are known to have higher mercury levels. These include fresh or frozen tuna (not canned "light" tuna), shark, swordfish, marlin, orange roughy, and escolar. But women who are or may become pregnant or who are nursing mothers need to restrict high-mercury fish to no more than 150 g (5.3 oz) a month. footnote 2

Health Canada says most people don't need to limit how much canned (white) albacore tuna they eat each week. But women who are or may become pregnant or who are nursing mothers need to limit canned albacore tuna intake to no more than 300 g (10.6 oz) each week. footnote 2

Health Canada has no restrictions on eating fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. These include salmon, rainbow trout, pollock, herring, shrimp, mussels, clams, oysters, and canned "light" tuna. footnote 3

Fish oil supplements

Sometimes people who don't eat fish take fish oil supplements. Some doctors think fish oil might help the heart because it has the omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish. But other doctors don't recommend these supplements to help the heart. That's because research has not proved that fish oil is helpful for everyone. footnote 2

If you have: footnote 3

  • Heart failure or have had a heart attack, fish oil supplements may have some benefit for you.
  • Other heart problems, supplements have not been shown to help your heart.
  • No heart problems, supplements have not been shown to help your heart.

Other foods that have omega-3 fatty acids

If you don't eat fish, you can get omega-3 fats from foods such as omega-3 eggs, walnuts, flax seeds, and canola oil.

Most of these foods have a different kind of omega-3 fatty acid (called ALA) than the kinds of omega-3 fatty acids you get from eating oily fish (called DHA and EPA). There is not enough good research about whether foods with ALA help the heart.

References

Citations

  1. Rimm EB, et al. (2018). Seafood long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and cardiovascular disease: A science advisory from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 138(1): e35–e47. DOI: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000574. Accessed October 9, 2018.
  2. Health Canada (2008). Mercury in fish: Consumption advice: Making informed choices about fish. Available online: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/securit/chem-chim/environ/mercur/cons-adv-etud-eng.php.
  3. Siscovick DS, et al. (2017). Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (fish oil) supplementation and the prevention of clinical cardiovascular disease: A science advisory from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 135(15): e867-e884. DOI: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000482. Accessed April 10, 2017.

Other Works Consulted

Credits

Current as of: August 31, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Rakesh K. Pai MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Brian D. O'Brien MD - Internal Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Colleen O'Connor PhD, RD - Registered Dietitian
Kathleen M. Fairfield MD, MPH, DrPH - Internal Medicine