Eating small whole fish may help you live longer

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A new study has found that consuming small fish regularly may lower the risk of death from all causes and cancer in Japanese women.

Conducted by Dr. Chinatsu Kasahara, Associate Professor Takashi Tamura, and Professor Kenji Wakai at Nagoya University Graduate School of Medicine, the research suggests significant health benefits from eating small fish whole. The findings were published in the journal Public Health Nutrition.

In Japan, it is common to eat small fish such as whitebait, Atlantic capelin, Japanese smelt, and small dried sardines whole, including the head, bones, and organs.

These parts of the fish are rich in important nutrients like calcium and vitamin A. Dr. Kasahara, who grew up eating small fish and now feeds them to her children, was particularly interested in exploring their health benefits.

The study involved 80,802 participants (34,555 men and 46,247 women) aged 35 to 69 years from across Japan. Participants reported how often they ate small fish using a food frequency questionnaire.

The researchers followed these participants for about nine years, during which time 2,482 deaths occurred, with 1,495 of these deaths being cancer-related.

One of the most notable findings was that women who ate small fish regularly had a significantly lower risk of dying from any cause and from cancer.

Specifically, women who consumed small fish 1-3 times a month, 1-2 times a week, or three or more times a week had a 32%, 28%, and 31% lower risk of all-cause mortality, and a 28%, 29%, and 36% lower risk of cancer mortality, respectively, compared to those who rarely ate small fish.

The researchers controlled for various factors that could affect mortality risk, such as age, smoking, alcohol consumption, BMI, and intake of different nutrients and foods. They found that women who frequently ate small fish were less likely to die from any cause.

This suggests that incorporating small fish into their diet could be a simple and effective way for women to reduce their mortality risk.

For men, the trend was similar, but the results were not statistically significant. The researchers believe this might be due to the smaller number of male participants or other unmeasured factors, such as the portion size of small fish consumed. They also noted that different types of cancer causing mortality between sexes might play a role.

Dr. Kasahara emphasized the broader relevance of these findings, noting that while the study was conducted among Japanese people, the results could be important for other populations as well.

She pointed out that small fish are a valuable source of nutrients, especially in developing countries where nutrient deficiencies are common. This study adds to the evidence supporting the health benefits of dietary practices that include eating small fish.

“Small fish are easy for everyone to eat, and they can be consumed whole, including the head, bones, and organs. Nutrients and active substances unique to small fish could help maintain good health,” Dr. Kasahara explained.

“The inverse relationship between the intake of small fish and mortality risk in women underscores the importance of these nutrient-dense foods in our diets.”

Associate Professor Tamura added that while the habit of eating small fish is mostly limited to coastal or maritime countries like Japan, they suspect that consuming small fish could be a way to prolong life expectancy worldwide.

More research is needed to fully understand the potential role of small fish consumption in reducing mortality risk.

This study highlights the potential life-extending benefits of small fish and suggests that including them in the diet could be a beneficial strategy for improving health and longevity.

If you care about nutrition, please read studies that vitamin D can help reduce inflammation, and vitamin K may lower your heart disease risk by a third.

For more information about nutrition, please see recent studies about foods that could sharp your brain, and results showing cooking food in this way may raise your risk of blindness.

The research findings can be found in Public Health Nutrition.

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