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The human body is an amalgamation of organs and organ systems, which work in liaison with one another to give it its functionality. If one organ or organ system ceases to function optimally, the entire body will deteriorate in its functionality. Thus, human health is a critical issue that dominates the world’s developmental agenda at all levels. As a result, the emphasis is placed on the promotion of healthy lifestyles.
Among the key elements of a healthy lifestyle is adherence to a healthy diet. There is a consensus among health experts and nutritionists on the types of food that constitute a healthy diet and one of them is fish (Ford et al. 1355). Overwhelming evidence suggests that fish consumption holds a plethora of health benefits. Unfortunately, a large fraction of the world’s population seems to be unaware of these benefits. This essay thus explores these benefits as well as the concerns associated with fish consumption in a bid to make it plain that fish consumption is far much more beneficial than presumed.
Fish as Part of the Human Diet
Food is broadly categorized into three well know groups, namely vitamins, carbohydrates, and proteins (Ford et al. 1355). Each of these categories is crucial to the wellbeing of the human body since they each have an exclusive role to play. Fish falls into the category of proteins, which supply the body with the necessary building blocks it requires to develop (Committee on Toxicity 5). In some exceptional cases, food from one of the three outlined categories can supply the body with nutrients that conventionally belong to another food category. For instance, fish is a protein-giving food, but it is also a vital source of vitamin D (Santerre 205).
The Health Benefits of Fish
Fish as a protein-giving food has a myriad of health benefits to its consumers. This positive aspect of fish consumption has seen researchers and nutritionists encourage people to eat fish at least two to three times per week for only then, can the health benefits of fish be unlocked (Committee on Toxicity 5).
The first well-documented benefit of fish is that it is an excellent source of high-quality protein (Santerre 205). The quality of the protein obtained from fish is enhanced by the absence of or low presence of saturated fats. The idea of lean protein or lean meat stems from this attribute. In regards to this attribute, a regular fish consumer is not only exempt from the risks associated with saturated fats but also draws the benefits associated with lean protein.
For instance, catfish and ground beef both have a protein content of about eighteen percent; however, an eight-ounce meal of catfish yields only 232 calories in contrast to ground beef, which yields 640 calories (Committee on Toxicity 5). The implication of this discrepancy on the health of regular ground beef consumers, as compared to regular fish consumers, is that they are more likely to become obese and suffer its consequences. In addition, saturated fats and cholesterol are associated with the prevalence of heart disease (Kris-Etherton et al. 22). Fortunately, fish has a low content of both cholesterol and saturated fats. Therefore, regular fish consumers greatly lower their chances of becoming heart disease victims.
Moreover, fish is a rich source of a unique group of polyunsaturated fatty acids called omega-3 or n-3 fatty acids (Stone 2337). This group comprises three fatty acids that play crucial roles in the human body. Stone (2337) adds that intake of fish oil has a considerable reducing effect on hypertension and hypercholesterolemia. Thus, people with high blood pressure can register considerable reductions in their blood pressure if they maintain a regular intake of oily fish. Further, studies have linked fish consumption to an overall boost of body immunity as well as a boost to the function of platelets, which are fundamental determinants of the coagulation characteristics of blood (Kris-Etherton et al. 25). In simple terms, omega-3 fatty acids improve the quality of the blood of regular fish consumers such that in case of an injury, they lose minimal amounts of blood because their blood clots relatively quickly.
Omega-3 fatty acids also exhibit a number of beneficial aspects of expectant and lactating mothers. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids aid in the development of the eyes and the brain of a fetus or infant (Committee on Toxicity 7). Expectant mothers pass the fatty acids to the fetus through the placenta while lactating mothers achieve the same feat via breast milk. Santerre (209) also notes that at an early stage of fetal development, omega-3 fatty acids aid in the development of the central nervous system. Moreover, there is a notable relationship between maternal fish intake and improved sensory-motor as well as the cognitive development of their children (Stone 2338).
Besides being a rich source of quality proteins and n-3 fatty acids, fish is a vital source of vitamin D (Santerre 205). Vitamin D is very good for the body since it aids in the development of strong muscles and bones through several mechanisms, which counteract osteoporosis or arthritis (Committee on Toxicity 7). It also helps in building a protective lining for the blood vessels, thus enhancing cardiovascular strength.
Like n-3 fatty acids, selenium, which is another key nutritious element present in fish, has been found to boost the body’s immunity against bacterial and viral infections as well as against cancer cells (Kris-Etherton et al. 26). Fish thus contains several nutritious elements that work together to deliver the numerous health benefits discussed herein.
Possible Dangers of Fish Consumption
Despite the numerous health benefits that portray fish as a healthy food, some health concerns have emerged concerning fish consumption. Fish accumulate a number of potentially harmful chemicals from contaminated water and pass them to the human body when consumed (Committee on Toxicity 10). Key among the chemicals is methylmercury, which has documented neuro-developmental effects on fetuses (Committee on Toxicity 10). Apparently, this chemical poses a risk to the fetus, thus pregnant mothers need to watch their intake of methylmercury to ensure it does not exceed the maximum level. It is, however, worth noting that the conventional and recommended levels of fish consumption cannot lead to the accumulation of excess fish-generated toxins in the body (Santerre 211). Another issue of concern is that raw fish or fish that is not properly cooked can expose the consumer to bacterial or viral infections (Committee on Toxicity 10). A common health condition associated with eating raw or uncooked fish is listeriosis, caused by the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes (Committee on Toxicity 10). It can, however, be avoided by properly cooking fish before it is eaten.
This essay seeks to explore the health benefits as well as the risks associated with fish consumption as part of a healthy lifestyle. Apparently, fish consumption carries a myriad of health benefits. Thus, fish falls in the category of healthy foods. The possible health concerns associated with fish consumption can be avoided by staying within the safe limits of fish consumption. The general rule of thumb concerning fish intake is, therefore, to eat two to three servings of properly cooked fish per week and its almost unbelievable health benefits will be unlocked.
Committee on Toxicity. Advice on fish consumption: benefits and risks. Norwich: TSO, 2004. 1-72. Print.
Ford, E. S., M. M. Bergmann, J. Kroger, A. Schienkiewitz, C. Weikert, and H. Boeing. “Healthy Living is the best Revenge: Findings from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition-Potsdam Study.” Archives of Internal Medicine 169.15 (2009): 1355-1362. Print.
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Kris-Etherton, P. M., W. S. Harris, and L. J. Appel. “Fish Consumption, Fish Oil, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and Cardiovascular Disease.” Arteriosclerosis, thrombosis, and vascular biology 23. 2 (2003): 20-30. Print.
Santerre, Charles R. “Balancing the Risks and Benefits of Fish for Sensitive Populations.” Journal of Foodservice 19.4 (2008): 205-212. Print.
Stone, Neil. “Fish Consumption, Fish Oil, Lipids, and Coronary Heart Disease.” AHA Journal 94. 9 (1996): 2337-2340. Web.