Oily fish is the one food that is essential to the health of our brains, hearts and vision, yet one in five of us NEVER eat it and a quarter haven’t eaten it the last six months, new research has found – here’s what to do
As far as favourite tastes of the British palate go, oily fish is on a par with algae, Brussels Sprouts and Roquefort cheese – we’re not fans.
Now, that’s official. One in five Brits never eat oily fish, and a quarter of us haven’t eaten it in the last six months, new research has found.
And yet, the Omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish are important for the maintenance of a healthy brain, heart and vision because our bodies can’t make them – we absolutely have to get them from our diets (which is why nutritionists are always on about eating oily fish).
However, it is worth bearing in mind that oily fish is not the only source of Omega 3s.
The new research, conducted on behalf of Efamol® found that the UK population is significantly under-consuming oily fish, and it’s putting our heart, brain and eye health at risk.
In fact, a staggering 60 per cent of us haven’t eaten oily fish in the last seven days, despite government reccommendations saying all of us should have at least one portion weekly.
Alongside the new research from Efamol®, another national survey published this year has also highlighted the UK’s staggeringly low consumption of oily fish.
a staggering 60 per cent of us haven’t eaten oily fish in the last seven days
For children aged four to 18 years, the weekly intake of fish in general is a staggeringly low 14 grams, which is just one tenth of a portion, the report found.
Adults aged 19-64 years were also found to eat below half a portion of fish a week. ‘That’s well below the government recommendation is to eat two portions of fish in general, and one of those being oily and we are eating less than one of either,’ says Wellbeing Expert Emma Doswell.
Meanwhile, even those of us that do eat oily fish predominantly go for salmon and mackerel and almost half of us (48%) have never tried anchovies, while 36% have never eaten trout.
This is why you probably don’t eat oily fish, according to the survey results
For most of us, it’s pretty simple; we don’t like the taste and texture (21%), it’s too expensive (21%) and we don’t like the smell in the kitchen when we’re cooking it (17%).
Other reasons for not eating oily fish the survey found included being scared of eating bones (15%), not knowing how to cook it (8%) and sustainability and impact on the environment (6%).
If expense is your issue, opting for canned versions of sardines and mackerel will still be rich in omega-3s at a fraction of the cost.
‘Quite a few people simply don’t like oily fish,’ says Doswell. ‘That’s partly the flavour but it’s also habit – people perceive it as expensive and smelly, but there are ways of addressing those concerns.
‘If you don’t like the fishy taste, recipes that include a curry or en croute can help to mask it,’ Doswell advises. ‘If expense is your issue, opting for canned versions of sardines and mackerel will still be rich in Omega 3 at a fraction of the cost.’
As for the smell in the house, cooking fish in the oven will help reduce to reduce lingering odours but buying it pre-cooked and/or canned can help get rid of the fish smell altogether.
If you’re confused about cooking it, grilling, lightly pan-frying or poaching can take less than ten minutes if the fish is already filleted.
If sustainability is your issue, look on labels for ‘pole and line caught’ fish as this is best for the environment and our marine life (unfortunately this might mean more expense, though).
This is why you REALLY need to eat oily fish
While few of us enthusiastically consume it, we know it’s good for us with 70 per cent recognising that oily fish is beneficial for brain health and 65 per cent being aware that it can help heart health.
‘We know that oily fish are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids and especially those known as Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA). DHA contributes to the maintenance of normal vision and brain function, and DHA plus EPA contribute to the normal function of the heart,’ says wellbeing expert, Emma Doswell.
Why are they so important? ‘A large proportion of all the body’s cell membranes are made up using Omega 3 fatty acids,’ says Doswell.
The DHA and EPA found in the Omega 3 fatty acids are essential substances for the functioning of the human body.
‘Oily fish is incredibly important in the diet as it contains Omega 3 DHA which contributes to normal brain function,’ says Doswell.
‘Both DHA and EPA play an important role in helping to keep your heart heathy too and DHA also contributes to the maintenance of normal vision.’
The Omega 3 DHA is especially important when you’re pregnant and for breastfeeding mothers as it helps contribute to the normal development of the baby’s brain and eyes, Doswell asserts.
‘Likewise, taking 100mg of DHA a day contributes to the normal visual development of children up to 12 months of age,’ she says.
Omega 3 fatty acids are one of the building blocks of the brain and DHA is the most abundant of these. The government recommend that we eat oily fish. This is the best way to keep your DHA and EPA levels topped up.
‘If you are vegan or vegetarian, you need to eat plenty of plant-based Omega 3 from food such as flaxseeds and walnuts. Then the body will make its own DHA and EPA from those foods – a difficulty may be in knowing how much DHA and EPA you are actually getting.
‘Oily fish on the other hand are especially good at converting their own food into EPA and DHA in their tissues so they have high concentrations of these healthy fats which are immediately available to our bodies when we eat oily fish – without the need to make them ourselves.’
How much oily fish do we actually need to eat?
According to the NHS, DHA contributes to healthy brain function and vision and you need to get at least 250mg of it daily (that level is the same for adults as well as children aged 12 months and over).
Meanwhile, both EPA and DHA help with the normal functioning of the heart and you need a combined intake of 250mg EPA and DHA together to achieve those benefits.
‘A typical 175 gram fillet of store-bought salmon contains 2100mg of EPA and 2280mg DHA and would therefore ensure you are eating the recommended amount of oily fish.
The average 140gram can of mackerel and a 60gram pack of smoked salmon would also give you all your needs of both DHA and EPA.
If you’re pregnant, the NHS guidelines recommend having no more than two portions of oily fish a week, avoiding shark, swordfish and marlin and not having more than two fresh tuna steaks or four medium-sized cans of tuna a week.
Still hate oily fish or concerned you’re not getting enough? Here’s how to supplement
Whether you enjoy eating the stuff or are a card-carrying fish phobic, here’s what you can to do ensure you are eating enough.
While eating a healthy, balanced diet is the best way to get the nutrients you need, you can consider topping up with a supplement.
We love Efamax’s High Strength Pure Fish Oil which contains 480mg EPA and 320mg DHA.
We’re particularly excited about new Efamol® Kids Omega 3 Drops, which have a natural lemon flavour and has been formulated with a high strength fish oil.
A 1ml drop contains 400mg DHA and 70mg EPA which taken daily can deliver all our EPA and DHA needs. They’re also suitable for all the family from six months plus.
But what if you eat oily fish, just maybe not enough and are thinking of supplementing?
‘If you eat oily fish regularly but feel you probably don’t eat enough, supplementation can give you extra confidence.’ says Emma Doswell.
Survey conducted by Research by Design for Efamol® in August 2019 with 1000 respondents Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) contributes to normal brain function and normal vision.
The beneficial effect is obtained with a daily intake of 250mg of DHA. EPA and DHA contribute to the normal function of the heart. The beneficial effect is obtained with a daily intake of 250mg of EPA and DHA.
DHA maternal intake contributes to the normal brain development of the foetus and breastfed infants. The beneficial effect is obtained with a daily intake of 200mg of DHA in addition to the recommended daily intake for Omega 3 fatty acids for adults, i.e.: 250mg DHA and EPA.
The claim can be used only for food which provides a daily intake of at least 200mg DHA DHA intake contributes to the normal visual development of infants up to 12 months of age.
The beneficial effect is obtained with a daily intake of 100 mg of DHA. Food supplements are intended to supplement the diet and should not be used as a substitute for a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.