How to live longerReading Time: 6 minutes
Questions for you
- Are you British? If not, where are you from?
- How often do you eat fish each week?
- How many types of fish can you name that you have ever eaten?
- If you’re not a fish eater, why not?
- If you eat fish, is this bought or homecooked?
- If it’s homecooked, what’s your most common cooking method for it?
- What would make you eat more fish?
As you read, pay attention to these figures & terms. You’ll know what they mean by the end.
- fried or breaded
- baked, grilled, or stewed
- tinned or marinated
You will find the reasons the British give for not eating fish and some links to statistics in my previous article on fish.
Indeed, how to replenish our seas and how to end illegal and non-sustainable fishing were some of the topics discussed in Encuentro de los Mares, an online conference that took place between 13-15th July 2020. So it was how to make it sustainable so there’s food for all in 2050. One of the most engaging presentations was an enlightening and extremely well-presented talk about the benefits of the Atlantic diet (heavy on fish) by cardiologist Guillermo Aldama, from Hospital Universitario de A Coruña (Galicia, Spain).
You might know that, in 2030, Spain is expected to become the country with the longest life expectancy in the world. Based on data from Worldofmeters.info, Spain currently lies at number 7, with an average life expectancy of 86.68 for women and 81.27 for men and just below Italy. Current leading countries are Hong Kong and Japan. Australia lies just below Spain at number 8; Ireland at 18; New Zealand draws with Greece at 19; and the UK sits at 29. But things are worse for the US, at 46. Life expectancy is roughly 83 for British females and 80 for males. You might think, “that’s ok for me”, but, WHAT IF you could live 4 years longer like Spanish women or 1.5 years longer, like Spanish men. Or more for Americans. Of course, it’s not just diet; but the Mediterranean and the Atlantic diets do play a big part. So I beg you to keep reading.
Spain is the country in the world with the best qualify of life until the end. The reason: the lowest cardiovascular disease rates in the world (followed by Israel and France). According to a New England Journal of Medicine study, people who followed the Mediterranean diet had 30% less chance of dying from cardiovascular disease. Are you a bit more interested now?
But why fish?
It’s all about the fats, more exactly, the good fats, aka premium fats or omega3 or unsaturated fats. Why? Your body cannot produce them, so you need to ingest them. Your cell walls are lined with fat, yes… The bad ones can end up blocking them. In the best of cases, you’ll end up with stents in your arteries to keep them open so your blood can travel. In the worst, you’ll get cardio or cerebrovascular disease, aka a heart attack or a stroke. Good quality fats are needed so that your cells, tissues and organs work like a clock. Good fats also help regulate cholesterol; in other words, keep the baddies in control.
Why are saturated fats (think fish and chips and English breakfast) bad for you? Because your body already produces them. So, you don’t need any more baddies!
Now, I know your doctor has already told you all this and you have not listened; I didn’t either, not because I thought they were wrong, but because it’s easy to not exercise and bake too much, particularly in today’s situation, and particularly if you work from home. So listening to this talk is something I needed. So, if you need some convincing, read on.
General benefits of having a good cellular structure (thanks to good fats)
- Better cognitive and neuronal function
- Better mechanical and electric function which helps improve your mood and depression
- Better visual function
- Reduced skin ageing and related diseases
- Improved immune system and, therefore, less allergies and cancer
- Better joint elasticity and improved motor system
- Improved fat metabolism
- Improved red blood cell function (circulation), white blood cell function (immune system) and platelets (coagulation)
Cardiovascular benefits of fish consumption
- Hypertension – The prime cause of cardiovascular disease in the world. Eating fish twice a week reduces hypertension and, consequently, reduces mortality by 10% for cardiovascular disease; 7% for cerebrovascular disease.
- Myocardial infarction – Replace 5% of your meat protein intake with fish protein and your mortality rate decreases by 30%, 20% if you consume it twice weekly. For each additional 100mg of fish you eat, your likelihood of having a heart attack reduces by 5%.
- Sudden death – when someone apparently healthy dies of a heart attack or a stroke. For example, in A Coruña, a city of 246,000 inhabitants located in a region with an Atlantic diet, 220 people die every year of sudden death. The main causes: myocardial infarction and undiagnosed congenital heart disease. But there’s good news: eating fish at least twice a week reduces your chances of sudden death by a whooping 70%. Your heart’s electric wiring works better if its tissue structure is premium.
However, the benefits of eating fish are linked to the cooking method – no benefit in fried or breaded fish, so your fish & chips doesn’t count; but bake it or boil it and the benefit is 45% lower risk of disease. That is, people who eat enough fish and the right way have nearly half the risk of heart disease.
Doctor Aldama mentioned an interesting study carried out in the UK where the study groups followed either a diet rich in fish (twice weekly), a diet rich in fibre or a reduction in fat intake, and the only patients who obtained a cardiovascular benefit were those who ate the recommended twice-weekly fish. Additionally, people who replaced fish with supplements did not get the benefit.
Doctor Aldama’s answers to the public
- Fish supplements DO NOT provide the same benefits.
- Fish properties are maintained in tinned fish.
- Fatty fish are your friends. Think sardines, mackerel, wild salmon, trout…
- Remember: grilled, baked, marinated and, try it, barbecued!
- Seaweed might be good for you, but it does not contain omega 3.
- No difference health-wise between farmed and wild fish.
Doctor Aldama’s last words
- People: make it tasty and attractive so you eat it!
- Providers: make it affordable! I would add that many healthy fish are actually cheap.
So, what was the relevance of those numbers and terms?
|1||30%||How much you can lower your chances of heart disease by eating sufficient fish|
|2||2||The magic number, or the portions of fish to eat per week|
|3||1||The world position Spain is expected to be in terms of life expectancy in 2030 (currently Hong Kong)|
|4||18||The world ranking for life expectancy in Ireland today|
|5||29||The world ranking for life expectancy in the UK today|
|6||46||The world ranking for life expectancy in the US today|
|7||70%||How much you can reduce the risk of sudden death by eating fish twice a week|
|8||fried||HOW NOT TO cook fish|
|9||Baked, grilled, stewed||Healthy cooking methods for fish|
|10||Tinned, brined||Other healthy preparations for fish|
MY TAKE ON FISH
You’re asking yourself if I do what I preach! Well, I try, and I love fish, particularly in summer, because it’s a quick and easy meal. I particularly like it on Sunday evenings, something light to start the week with a light tummy.
What I generally buy
- wild salmon
- hake or cod
- smoked or fresh mackerel
- lemon or Dover sole (occasionally, expensive)
- scallops (occasionally, very expensive if organic, but I get to eat the whole lot because my husband does not like them)
- crab meat for pasta or sandwiches or risotto (hard to get the fresh stuff round here)
- tinned tuna or sardines for pasta or sandwiches or salads
- mussels (occasionally)
- other white fish (occasionally)
I suspect I would eat a lot more variety if I lived in Spain or had a local fishmongers. This week’s shop: wild salmon, organic trout, plus tinned mackerel and tuna for lunches. So, I did listen!
I support sustainable and organic fishing and it’s what I’ve been buying for years. I appreciate that not everyone can afford it. I try to have a balance of 3 vegetarian nights, 2 fish, and 2 other. I only eat red meat occasionally. Sometimes the week is quite veg-based, sometimes more fish-based, hardly ever meat-heavy.
Having listened to various talks in this conference, I believe it is possible to achieve a happy balance between green and blue. But Alexandra Cousteau said when asked that she does not eat fish any longer because she cannot guarantee, because of the complex supply line, that it will be sustainable. So, it’s a personal choice. However, I would not neglect the health benefits: a happier body and mind.
Organic Cornish hake from the Celtic Coast Fish company, via Abel & Cole, in a bed of deliciously salty and refreshingly lemony samphire and new potatoes. Based on recipe in A Table for Friends, by Skye McAlpine.
@Pilirodriguezdeus of this article and quiz | @Dr Guillermo Aldama of his data | To watch the original talk, see the congress website linked above. If you find I misquoted any numbers, let me know privately and I’ll amend them.