No short cuts, no magic bullet...
Fish is not a health food. Neither is it a magical wonder food that can guarantee good heart health and turn all kids into geniuses. The real problem here is not just the lack of good fats in the diet; it's the generally appalling state of most people's diets. Fish is not a popular food; on average people in the UK eat only a third of a portion of oily fish per week with seven out of ten people consuming none whatsoever. We should stop looking for a 'quick miracle fix' and focus on the bigger picture. improving our diets by cutting out the saturated fatty foods laden with animal fats, sugar, salt and cholesterol and eating more fruit, vegetables, pulses, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
This report explains what the current research shows: fish may be a source of protective fats but they are not the only, nor the healthiest, source. Fish are also a source of unhealthy and unnecessary saturated fat in the diet. Plant-derived EFAs are a far superior source of good fats in the diet.
Environmental contamination of the oceans now means that when you take a mouthful of fish you are also taking a mouthful of neurotoxins and carcinogens (mercury, PCBs and dioxins). Some people might consider this game of Russian roulette worth the risk if the health benefits afforded from fish could not be gained elsewhere. However, the research clearly shows that ALA from plants can protect heart health and doesn't come laced with poison. Plant-derived EFAs have numerous advantages over fish-derived fats yet are virtually ignored by health professionals. This may be due to the paucity of relevant research. The VVF is trying to address this by pushing for more research including plant-derived ALA alongside the fish oils EPA and/or DHA.
Including fish in the typical Western diet, high in saturated and processed fat, will not provide the health benefits that many people seek. A far more effective way to achieve good health is to adopt a more plant-based diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol but containing a healthy amount of polyunsaturated EFAs. Well-balanced vegetarian and vegan diets, containing EFA-rich foods, not only help combat heart disease but also protect against many other degenerative diseases.
Although the main focus of this report is human health, the environmental argument for switching to plant-based omega-3s cannot be ignored. We know how commercial fishing is devastating the world's oceans and fish stocks are plummeting. Flaxseed and other plant-based sources of omega-3s are sustainable sources of this important fatty acid as well as being the healthier option. The many arguments supporting the move towards plant-based omega-3s away from fish oils are indisputable.
Our hearts don't need fish, our brains don't need fish and our health is far better served by plant EFAs as part of a well-balanced plant-based diet. Next time you are told of the magical properties of fish oil, you'll know what to say... fish is not a health food.