Here’s some positive news from Finland, land of the midnight sun: eating lots of fatty fish can pump up your HDL, the “good” cholesterol believed to protect against heart disease and heart attacks. Not only did a fishy diet increase the number of HDL particles in the blood of participants in a study from the University of East Finland, it also made them bigger, which is definitely a good thing. Big HDL particles are believed to be the ones capable of sweeping deposits of other types of cholesterol off blood vessel walls, where they otherwise might build up enough to clog the artery and block blood flow to the heart, causing a heart attack. Unlike the protective big HDL particles, small ones are not so helpful and may even be harmful.
The Finnish researchers reported that the fish that did the most good were the fatty ones like salmon, rainbow trout and herring, the very same fish that are loaded with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. (You can add mackerel, halibut, albacore tuna, lake trout and sardines to that list.) In addition to their heart benefits, omega-3s play key roles in brain function, growth, development and disease prevention. They’re called “essential” fatty acids for good reason: the body can’t make them on its own. You have to get them from fish, but because it can be difficult even for people who love fish to get adequate amounts of omega-3s, I recommend taking a daily omega-3 supplement.
Can You Eat Fish 3 or 4 Times a Week?
The Finnish study, published online on February 28 by the journal in PLOS ONE, showed that eating fish for three to four meals a week led to positive changes in HDL. The study didn’t address the benefits that might have been gained by eating low-fat fish such as perch or a fish known in Finland as zander (a species resembling perch and pike). The Finnish researchers also looked at the effects of eating whole grains and bilberries (a berry similar to our huckleberries) on HDL but concluded that the HDL benefits seemed to stem mainly from the fish.
As you may know, The Brain Warrior meal plan is very big on fish. Try my recipe for Baked Salmon with Roasted Leeks, or Cedar Plank Salmon. They’re delicious. Try all my other recipes for fish on this site and in “The Brain Warrior’s Way Cookbook”.
There’s more fishy news to come from Finland – a study is probing the health effects of both fish and plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids, as well as the health effects of eating both fatty and low-fat fish, which previous research at the Finnish University suggests may help lower blood pressure. I’ll report the findings when they become available. Stay tuned.