The New Low-Cholesterol Diet: Fatty Fish

The right fish can do wonders for your heart

By R. Morgan Griffin
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Cynthia Haines, MD

The term "fatty fish" may sound unappealing, but actually these are the tastiest and healthiest foods from the sea. Oily fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, and trout are full of omega-3 fatty acids - good fats unlike the bad saturated fat you find in most meats. These fish should be a staple of everyone's heart-healthy diet.

How Does Fish Help?

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to lower triglycerides, which are a type of fat in the bloodstream. Experts aren't sure of the exact mechanism. Omega-3 fatty acids may also slow down the growth of plaques in the arteries and reduce inflammation throughout the body.

What's the Evidence?

A number of studies going back years have shown the benefits of fatty fish. In an important review of studies, researchers found that getting daily omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil could lower triglyceride levels by 25%-30%. The results were published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1997.

Based on the mounting evidence, the FDA approved a new "qualified health claim" for the effects of omega-3 fatty acids in 2004. This means that the evidence for the benefits of fatty fish is strong but not yet conclusive. It also allows the makers or distributors of foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids to advertise that the product may reduce the risk of heart disease.