Pili Rodríguez Deus/ July 25, 2020/ healthy eating, nutrition

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Before you read

  1. Are you British? If not, where are you from?
  2. How often do you eat fish each week?
  3. How many types of fish can you name that you have ever eaten?
  4. If you’re not a fish eater, why not?
  5. If you eat fish, is this bought or homecooked?
  6. If it’s homecooked, what’s your most common cooking method for it?
  7. What would make you eat more fish?
Seas bass with mussels | healthy eating
Seabass with St Austell Bay mussels, Montagu Arms Hotel

How to replenish our seas and put an end to illegal and non-sustainable fishing were just some of the topics discussed in Encuentro de los Mares, an online conference that took place between 13-15th July 2020. One of the most enlightening and engaging presentations was a talk about the benefits of the Atlantic diet (heavy on fish) by cardiologist Guillermo Aldama, from Hospital Universitario de A Coruña (Galicia, Spain).

You can find the reasons the British give for not eating fish and some links to statistics in my previous article on eating and fishing fish sustainably.

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, 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, “I’m ok with that” but… what if you could live 4 years longer like Spanish women, or 1.5 years longer like Spanish men. Of course, it’s not just a matter of diet; but the Mediterranean and Atlantic diets do play a big part. A bit more interested?

Spain is the country in the world with the best qualify of life until death. 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. Not convinced yet?

Why fish?

It’s all about the fats, concretely, the good fats or premium fats or unsaturated fats or omega3, however you’ll remember them better. Why? Our bodies cannot produce them, which means we need to get them from food.

Our cell walls are lined with fat. The bad ones can end up blocking them. You could end up with stents in your arteries or, worst, with a heart attack or a stroke. We need good quality fats so that our cells, tissues and organs run like clockwork. They help keep counteract the nasty fats, aka cholesterol.

Why are saturated fats (think fish and chips) bad for you? Because your body already produces them. And 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, mainly because it’s easy to be a couch potato and bake a few too many pies, particularly this year, and particularly if you work from home. Listening to this talk is something I needed. If you still need convincing, read on.

Benefits of having a good cell structure

  • Better cognitive and neuronal function
  • Better electric function which helps improve your mood
  • Better visual function
  • Better joint elasticity and improved motor system
  • Reduced skin ageing and related diseases
  • Improved fat metabolism
  • Improved immune system and, therefore, less allergies and cancer
  • Improved red blood cell function (circulation), white blood cell function (immune system) and platelets (coagulation)

Sounds a bit more convincing, doesn’t it!

Cardiovascular benefits of eating fish

  • Hypertension. Prime cause of cardiovascular disease in the world. Eating fish twice weekly reduces hypertension and, consequently, reduces mortality by 10% for cardiovascular disease; 7% for cerebrovascular disease (supposing I haven’t reversed them!).
  • Myocardial infarction. Replace 5% of your meat protein intake with fish protein and your mortality rate decreases by 30%, 20% if you consume two portions a week. According to Doctor Aldama, for each additional 100mg of fish you eat, your likelihood of having a heart attack reduces by 5%.
  • Sudden death. In A Coruña, a city of 246,000 inhabitants in a region with an Atlantic diet, 220 people die every year of sudden death, that is someone who was apparently healthy. The main culprits: 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 of premium quality.

The bad news, the benefits of eating fish are linked to the cooking method. No benefit in fried or breaded fish, so fish & chips doesn’t count. But bake it or boil it and the benefit becomes 45% lower risk of disease. In other words, people who eat enough fish and the right way have nearly half the risk of heart disease.

Doctor Aldama mentioned a study carried out in the UK whose 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. You might like to know that people who replaced fish with supplements did not get the benefit.

Dr Aldama’s answers

  • Fish supplements DO NOT provide the same benefits as fish.
  • Fish properties are preserved in tinned fish.
  • Fatty fish are your friends: sardines, mackerel, salmon, trout…
  • Remember: grilled, baked, marinated and, yummy, 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 advice

  • For people: make it tasty and attractive so you eat it!
  • For suppliers: make it affordable!

Fishy stats

1The world position Spain is expected to be in terms of life expectancy in 2030 (currently Hong Kong)
2The minimum portions of fish to eat per week
30%How much you can lower your chances of heart disease by eating two portions of fish a week
70%How much you can reduce the risk of sudden death by eating fish twice a week
18The world ranking for life expectancy in Ireland today
29The world ranking for life expectancy in the UK today
46The world ranking for life expectancy in the US today

My take on fish

Do I do what I preach? I try. 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 happy tummy. What I buy:

  • wild salmon
  • hake or cod
  • trout
  • fresh and smoked mackerel
  • crab meat for pasta or sandwiches or risotto
  • tinned tuna or sardines for pasta or sandwiches or salads
  • lemon or Dover sole (occasionally)
  • scallops (occasionally)
  • mussels (occasionally)
  • other white fish (occasionally)

I suspect I would eat a greater variety of fish if I lived in Spain or had a local fishmongers. In this week’s shop: wild salmon, organic trout, plus tinned mackerel and tuna for lunches. I did listen!

My food values

I support sustainable and organic fishing and it’s what I’ve been buying for years. I try to have a balance of 3 vegetarian nights, 2 fish, and 2 other. I rarely eat red meat, probably more in winter with stews. Sometimes the week is more veg-based, sometimes more fish-based, never 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, when asked, Alexandra Cousteau replied that she no longer eats fish, because she cannot guarantee, due to the complex supply line, that it will be sustainable. It’s a personal choice, but the health benefits are a happier body and mind.

@Pili Rodriguez Deus of this article

@Dr Aldama of his research

My Spanish translation services

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