15 ways to eat more oily fish (& what is an oily fish anyway?)
So after discussing how to get more oily fish into our diets with clients and most recently just this morning with my friends, it is apparent that many people really struggle with this. Fish and nutrition have a close relationship… A large body of evidence points to eating oily fish two to three times a week to help lower blood pressure and help to reduce fat build-up in our arteries.
There’s evidence that Omega 3 intake can reduce arthritic pain and stiffness and can lower the risk of a woman developing endometriosis. 21 prospective cohort studies show that higher consumption of oily fish is also associated with a lower risk of breast cancer. It even reduces your risk of diabetes. Scientists also suggest that Omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, asthma, depression, diabetes, macular degeneration, multiple sclerosis (MS) and rheumatoid arthritis, (RA), as well as systemic inflammation. Pretty amazing.
With cardiovascular ill-health at an all-time high, many of us would do well to bear this in mind… Other studies have also shown that eating oily fish increases blood flow to the brain during mental tasks and some studies show that it appears to improve children’s learning and behaviour.
How much oily fish? There’s no one answer…
Pre-menopausal women and girls including those trying to conceive and pregnant women should eat no more than 280g oily fish per week – or two portions – equivalent to about 3 standard tins of 95g sardines per week or 2 and three quarter salmon fillets per week. Most other people can eat fatty fish 3 x per week. Boys can be given up to 4 oily fish portions a week. Girls can have 2 portions maximum due to the risk of harming future pregnancies from the accumulating pollutants affecting potential foetuses.
So what are oily fish? If you don’t know – you’re not alone… In order of greatest Omega 3 value, this is the definitive list…
MACKEREL – fresh or frozen
KIPPERS – fresh or frozen
PILCHARDS – tinned in tomato sauce
SPRATS – fresh … not seen frozen ones!
KIPPERS – tinned
TROUT – fresh or frozen
MACKEREL – smoked or tinned
SALMON – fresh or frozen
SARDINES – tinned in tomato sauce
HERRING – pickled
SARDINES & ANCHOVIES – tinned in oil
HERRING – fresh or frozen
PILCHARDS – tinned in brine or oil
SALMON – tinned in brine or smoked
HERRING – tinned in sauces
TROUT – smoked
followed by Omega 3 rich seafood…mussels, oysters, squid and crab then back to fish swordfish and tinned tuna follow this list with negligible amounts of Omega 3, followed by the white fish. Bear in mind that sadly for all those tuna lovers out there – fresh tuna is no longer considered an oily fish. (Updated 2019).
So when you do your meal plan or shopping list, ensure you have some of the following oily fish on the list, and preferably some of the SMALLER FISH – I’ve highlighted those in bold and italics. NB, the best quality oily fish supplements are usually made from anchovies and sardines as these are the smallest fish.
Oily fish recipes
I have put together some of my favourite oily fish recipes in one place for easy access:
1 – Sardines in tomato sauce on toasted spelt bread (my personal favourite) with a few slices of avocado for slightly extra Omega 3 value. Creamy and salty at the same time – delicious. If you can’t face the bones to begin with – start by buying bone-free sardines and then graduating to the ones with bones in – those little bones are great for human bone health. Otherwise if you’re a herb lover try Morrison’s Sardines infused with Sea Salt and Rosemary or Ocado’s Parmentier Sardines in olive oil and Herbes de Provence.
2 – Eggs Benedict (not as fast as the above, but good for a weekend morning).
3 – fresh tuna nicoise is delicious. Substitute the tuna for ***mackerel*** in this recipe.
4 – trout with beetroot and fennel salad (BBC Good Food magazine)
5 – linguine with tuna, lemon and dill (Olive Magazine) Substitute the tuna for anchovies or mackerel in this recipe.
6 – firstly, the most frequently consumed oily fish (at least amongst my client base anyway) is salmon. This salmon pasta recipe is fast & simple. Serve with a side of steamed green asparagus (in season May to July) or maybe some fresh green peas, spinach or spring greens (all in season in May). The peppercorns are optional.
7 – Add anchovies to a tomato sauce for a delicious Spaghetti alla Puttanesca for a gorgeous salty kick and some Omega 3 goodness thrown in. Thank you to Rosie Reynolds for this excellent and easy recipe – I’ve been recommending this one for years… Capers and basil are optional. I use anchovy fillets sold in glass jars as I try to limit food stored in tins due to the BPA (Bisphenol-A) which lines the tins and some other food containers. This is a great and nutritious fast meal using standard cupboard items.
8-9 – You can also add anchovies to pizzas of course – but one of my favourite ways is to add to watercress for an awesome salsa verde (thank you Nigel Slater) to show you’ve made an effort with dinner.
10 – Grilled mackerel with new potatoes – delicious with baby gem lettuce (also in season from May onwards).
11 – Jamie Oliver’s traditional fish pie – with green salad
12 – Pesto crushed salmon with quinoa and roasted vegetables **(low GL meal, from Patrick Holford)**
13 – Lentil & leek kedgeree with smoked mackerel – The Happy Foodie
14 – finally Nigel Slater’s kippers with carrots and potatoes.
OK this has made me really hungry… but before I go and make some lunch… some of my clients’ most asked oily fish and nutrition questions …
Q: Is there any point spending extra £ on WILD salmon rather than farmed salmon?
YES: it is thought to contain about 4-5 times the amounts of vitamin D of farmed fish. Also – it has been shown that wild salmon contains less pesticide residues than farmed salmon.
Q: What if my kids / other half won’ t eat it?
To those of you with children – keep presenting Omega 3 rich oily fish to your them… It takes several exposures of some foods – up to 14 it is thought – to create a liking for it – so don’t be put off too easily. Fish pie is a good place to start (again!)…
Q: Is oily fish good for me in other ways?
Yes there are other benefits of oily fish – it’s a lovely source of lean protein, vitamin A and crucially contain bone-building vitamin D.
Q: Doesn’t grass-fed beef also contain Omega 3?
Yes – but it’s the ALA form of Omega 3 rather than the crucial DHA & EPA form of Omega 3 found in fish.
Q: Are Omega 3 supplements a must and who can’t take them?
Omega 3 is a source of essential fatty acids – our bodies cannot make these by themselves, we have to consumer them! If you really cannot eat fish and you’ve tried disguising fish in strong flavoured foods such as in a Parmesan pesto (using neat fish oil – usage #15!) or adding anchovies for example to spaghetti bolognaise – there are always supplements. They tend to taste better these days, too. Also – if you have heart problems do go to your doctor AS WELL as eating more oily fish and before you try supplementation, including if you are taking any blood thinners – including aspirin. *Those with type 2 diabetes should talk to their doctor before taking Omega 3 supplements as they can increase fasting blood sugar levels. Likewise – supplementation is not advised for those with bleeding disorders or those with easy bruising. Do not take fish oil supplements if you have a fish or shellfish allergy.
Q: I’m on warfarin to slow blood clotting. Can I take fish oil?
No – the same applies as above – fish oil may contribute to blood thinning and so combining fish oil with a blood thinner may increase the risk of bleeding or bruising. Do not take fish oils if you are on any medication hat could slow clotting such as Diclofenac (muscle relaxant), Ibuprofen or Naproxen.
Q: I am on blood pressure medication. Can I take fish oil?
Do not take fish oil supplements without doctor’s advice as fish oil may decrease blood pressure further, causing a further lowering of blood pressure.
Q: I’m vegan – can I get Omega 3 from other foods apart from oily fish?
Oily fish is the best source of Omega 3 rich fatty acids, DHA and EPA. Our bodies cannot obtain a great deal from other sources like avocados, walnuts and flaxseeds (also known as linseeds) – and not nearly as much as is found in oily fish. Also – our bodies cannot make it – this is why it’s termed an ‘essential fatty acid’.
So if you can’t take fish oil supplements – it’s back up the page to the recipes 🙂
Q: I’m pregnant – can I take Omega 3 fish oils?
The NHS advises that unless advised otherwise by your GP – do not take fish LIVER oil supplements when pregnant or trying for a baby – this is due to their high Vitamin A (retinol) content which could harm your baby.
Q: Which Omega 3 brand do you recommend?
If you don’t have any of the health issues above – read on.. There are huge variations in Omega 3 supplements, both in price and quality. Ensure you look for one with certifiable purity levels i.e. free from pesticides and mercury, and ones with reasonable amounts of EPA and DHA within. Some of the best and priciest brands contain 12-1300mg of Omega 3, whereas one of the cheapest offered by a major supermarket offers just 250mg of EPA & DHA. Be careful when you look at high street versions as the TOTAL FISH OIL rather than the critical Omega 3 fish oils are often listed within the grams, which makes it appear to be more cost-effective than it actually is…
Take a good quality fish oil with a meal though not at the same time as hot food – to avoid side effects including burping.
Q: Is there a test to see if I am getting enough Omega 3?
Yes, come and talk to me. Please be aware that I cannot offer you diet and supplement suggestion without a nutritional therapy consultation.
Finally – if you’re on medication – always ask your GP if you can safely take a fish oil supplement.
Sadly, you cannot get enough Omega 3 from fish these days even if you ate it daily, so some supplementation is inevitable for most people. Please let me know if you would like a nutritional therapy consultation in North Herts to help you with eating more oily fish or help with safe Omega 3 supplementation.
(Updated June 2019)