In a new study, researchers found that replacing some red and processed meat with fish in a daily diet could greatly benefit people’s health.
But the benefit mainly from eating fatty fish, not lean fish. In addition, eating tuna may bring health risks.
This is because tuna is both low in beneficial fatty acids and can have high concentrations of methylmercury.
The health effect is especially strong in men over 50 and women of childbearing age.
The research was conducted by a team from the Technical University of Denmark.
Fish is an important source of healthy fatty acids and vitamin D, but it may also contain potentially harmful substances such as methylmercury.
On the other hand, red and processed meat contributes to the intake of saturated fat and is linked to the various types of cancer, but red meat is also an important source of dietary iron.
In the study, the team developed a method to calculate the total health impact of replacing one food with another in the diet.
The team found that the Danish population as a whole can gain up to 7,000 healthy years of life annually if all adult Danes eat fish in the recommended quantities while at the same time reducing their meat intake.
This estimate covers among others the prevention of approximately 170 deaths from coronary heart disease per year.
The team suggests the health benefit of eating fish depends on the type of fish people put on their plates. In addition, people’s age and gender could play a role.
The researchers found that the greatest health benefit comes from eating only fatty fish (such as herring and mackerel) or a mixture of fatty and lean fish (such as plaice and pollock).
The health benefit is smaller if people only eat lean fish. This is because fatty fish contains larger amounts of beneficial fatty acids.
Moreover, the researchers found that there is a big health loss if tuna is the only type of fish in the diet because tuna is both low in beneficial fatty acids and can have high concentrations of methylmercury.
The health loss is particularly high among women of childbearing age, as intake of fish with a high concentration of methylmercury can damage unborn children’s brain development.
The finding suggests that people need to pay attention to the type of fish they eat.
The team believes their tool is useful in examining the health effects of various interventions designed to promote healthy eating habits or when developing official dietary guidelines.
The lead author of the study is Sofie Theresa Thomsen.
The study is published in Food and Chemical Toxicology.
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