Despite it being one of the main dietary recommendations from Public Health England*, only one in four adults (27%) recognise they should eat two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily. This recommendation is made because fish is rich in protein and a variety of vitamins and minerals. Fish – and especially oily fish – is also packed with long chain omega-3 fats, which help the heart to work normally and maintain normal blood pressure. One of the omega-3 fats in fish – DHA – is also important for our brain and vision.
Regardless of this recommendation, which recognises the important nutrition contribution fish makes to our diets, figures from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey** confirm that, on average, Brits only manage around one portion of fish a week – and only eat one portion of oily fish every two to three weeks.
Juliette Kellow, Fish is the Dish resident consultant dietitian and nutrition expert explains, "So often health messages about food focus on telling people they need to eat less of something. But when it comes to fish, there’s fabulous news. It’s a food most people should eat more of to reap health benefits.”
The message is actually very simple, confirms Juliette: “Eat two portions of sustainably sourced fish each week, and make sure one of these is oily such as mackerel, sardines, pilchards, herring, trout or salmon."
It's important to get the serving size right though to ensure we get enough omega-3 fats in our diet – and that means eating two BIG servings of fish a week, or the equivalent of two big servings!
Unsurprisingly, 63% of adults said they didn't know the weight of fish that should count as one serving. Only 15% knew that when cooked, the recommended serving size should be about 140g.
"Portion size is important to ensure we get enough omega-3 fat in our diet for good health," says Juliette. "If the amount of fish eaten in a meal is quite small – for example, half a can of tuna in a sandwich (around 60g fish), a small pack of sushi (around 30g fish) or a handful of prawns in a stir fry (around 50g fish) – then it’s probably necessary to eat fish more than twice a week to ensure you get the equivalent of two 140g portions and enough omega-3 in your diet."
Juliette also says it's important to enjoy a range of fish. "Oil-rich fish are well recognised as being naturally rich in long-chain omega-3 fats – the form that the body can most easily use – but shellfish including crab, prawns and mussels, and even white fish still give a good dose in addition to other nutrients, including protein and many vitamins and minerals."
Mackerel was recognised as the top choice for being a good source of omega-3 fats with 66% of adults identifying the torpedo-shaped fish. Sardines were recognised as the second best choice – 59% of adults said this – followed by salmon (41%). But just 3% recognised mussels, crab or prawns, as being rich in omega-3 fats.
"The reality is all fish – whether fresh, frozen or canned – is good for us and is something many people should be eating more of!” says Juliette. “Even better is that preparing and cooking fish is far easier than many people think and can result in a tasty meal, often ready from start to finish in less than 15 minutes. If you’re new to eating or cooking it, start with pre-prepared, ready-to-cook or canned fish, making sure you also choose oil-rich varieties such as mackerel, sardines pilchards, herring, salmon or trout once a week. This makes it really easy to get the recommended two portions of fish a week, including one oily fish.”
*Public Health England (2018) A Quick Guide to the Government’s Healthy Eating Recommendations
**Public Health England/Food Standards Agency (2018) National Diet and Nutrition Survey Results from Years 7 and 8 (combined) of the Rolling Programme (2014/2015 – 2015/2016)