Nutrition & Dietetics

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Medicine & Healthcare, Wiley-Blackwell

April 16, 2012

Fish findings good news for heart disease sufferers

New Australian research has found eating fish may have the edge over fish oil capsules when it comes to lowering blood pressure, a known risk factor for heart disease.

The study, published this month in the Dietitians Association of Australia’s journal Nutrition & Dietetics[i], compared the effect of 1g/day of healthy omega-3 fats from fresh salmon and fish oil capsules on an ‘omega-3 index’ and heart disease risk factors.

Both fish and fish oil capsules increased the ‘omega-3 index’ to the level thought to be linked with a lower risk of dying from heart disease. And eating fish, but not fish oil capsules, was also linked with a marked reduction in blood pressure.

Eleven patients with heart disease, recruited from St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne, took part in the study. Participants were mostly working-age males with no smoking history and a moderate alcohol intake.

They either took two fish oil capsules six days a week, or ate two 150g serves of fresh Atlantic salmon per week, over twelve weeks. They then had a ‘wash-out’ period where they went back to their usual diet and didn’t take supplements, before swapping across to the other treatment for a further 12 weeks.

Researcher Catherine Itsiopoulos said the study showed that fish intake may have additional heart health benefits over fish oil for people with heart disease.

‘Fish is a whole food, so as well as omega-3 fats it has other beneficial nutrients such as taurine and selenium. And it may be that eating fish replaces other less healthy foods, meaning a better diet overall,’ said Associate Professor Itsiopoulos, an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

She said omega-3 fats have been linked with numerous health benefits, but intake is well below recommended levels in many populations[ii].

Catherine Itsiopoulos’ tips for increasing omega-3 intake through diet:

  • Eat two to three meals per week of oily fish (such as salmon, sardines, mackerel or tuna).
  • Choose omega-3 enriched eggs
  • Use canola oil for cooking, flaxseed oil for making dressings and mayonnaise, and extra-virgin olive oil for dipping, sprinkling and tossing onto vegetables and salads
  • Use canola margarine as a spread or in baking
  • Switch to omega-3 enriched wholemeal bread
  • Try ground flaxseed (flaxseed meal) as a topping on breakfast cereal
  • Use lean cuts of meat (beef or lamb).


[i] Brazionis L, Ting E, Itsiopoulos C, Wilson A, Hodge A. The effects of fish or fish oil on the omega-3 index. Nutr Diet 2012;69:5-12.

[ii] Australian guidelines recommend healthy adults eat 500mg/day long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCn3PUFA), and for people with heart disease, this rises to 1,000mg/day. But the last National Nutrition Survey suggests Australians do not meet the recommended intake, with an average intake of 246mg/day.