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Cindy Fitch: Be smart; eat more fish

By By Cindy Fitch
Raw salmon fillet on a supermarket tray.

What would you say if I told you that a specific type of food could help keep your heart healthy and strong, decrease inflammation, improve your mood and decrease your risk for developing dementia?

You might say that it sounds too good to be true, but you would be wrong. Research studies from around the world have demonstrated some very important benefits to eating fish or seafood on a regular basis — at least twice a week.

Seafood contains an essential type of fat called omega-3 fatty acids. Our bodies need omega-3 fatty acids, but we can’t make them. We must get them from our diet, and seafood is a very good source.

Most people know that omega-3 fatty acids are good for their hearts. They help to keep blood vessels open so that blood flows freely. They decrease blood clotting, which can help to prevent heart attack, stroke, or blood clots in the legs or the lungs — all potentially fatal.

But did you know that omega-3 fatty acids from fish or seafood support the structure and function of brain cells? Keeping brain cells healthy could help to stave off dementia or depression and improve our ability to think, learn, and remember. Omega-3 fatty acids are critical during the time that the brain is developing, before birth and in the early years of life, but they also benefit people of all ages. Everyone needs a healthy brain.

If omega-3 fatty acids were the only benefit to eating seafood, you could get them in a supplement, and many people do. However, seafood is more important to good health than just the fatty acids. It is a source of high-quality protein and provides other essential nutrients. Seafood is a good source of vitamin D, a vitamin that is often lacking in our diet. Vitamin D is critical for bone and muscle health and may help to prevent diabetes and some cancers.

The people of West Virginia are beautiful, strong, and resilient. Yes, we have health problems, but our problems don’t define us. We have the power to make small changes that have big impacts on our health and quality of life.

One of those small changes could be eating fish or seafood at least twice a week as part of a balanced, nutritious eating plan.

Charleston has the honor of being one of only nine U.S. cities to participate in a public health campaign led by the Seafood Nutrition Partnership (SNP) to educate Americans about the benefits of seafood. They have many resources available, including recipes and low-cost menu ideas at seafoodnutrition.org.

As a part of this public health campaign, I am taking a pledge to improve my health by eating seafood twice a week. Won’t you join me?

Cindy Fitch, a registered dietician, is associate dean of programs and research at the West Virginia University Extension Service, cfitch@wvu.edu.

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