Protein isn’t just important for building lean body mass after a workout – it has a dizzying array of other functions. Protein is vital for making enzymes that regulate bodily functions and for building antibodies that protect you against infection. They also provide structural support for tissues and serve as carriers to transport molecules around the body. You can get protein from a variety of sources – animal-based and plant-based.
One source of protein that comes with some “fringe benefits” is seafood, particularly fatty fish. According to a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids could help you live longer.
Does Eating Fatty Fish Increase Longevity?
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Washington recently carried out a study. This landmark study showed that older people with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood enjoyed greater longevity. In fact, they lived a little over 2 years longer on average than those with lower levels of this healthy form of fat.
Fortunately, fatty fish like salmon are one of the best sources of omega-3 – and an excellent source of protein too. A 3-ounce serving of salmon has about 16 grams of protein. You don’t need to eat a lot of fish to get the benefits of the healthy fats that are so abundant in fatty fish. One study showed that men who ate fatty fish like salmon once a week had a lower risk of heart failure, although most experts recommend eating fatty fish twice a week to maximize the benefits.
The Anti-Aging Benefits of Fatty Fish
One of the consequences of aging is that small segments of DNA, the genetic material inside cells, become shorter. This serves as a cellular marker for aging. Shortened telomeres are linked with health problems like heart disease and premature death.
According to a study carried out at Ohio State, telomeres were longer in people who had a higher ratio of omega-3 fats in the blood, suggesting that omega-3s could play a role in protecting telomeres. How might they do this? Telomeres are very susceptible to oxidative stress and omega-3s may help to keep this in check by reducing inflammation, thereby slowing down cellular aging.
How can you get those benefits? By eating fatty fish. Another thing that protects against telomere shortening is regular exercise while stress enhances it. We can’t always control stress but we can offset some of its effects by exercising and getting enough omega-3s.
How to Get the Benefits
When you choose your protein sources, add some omega-3 rich seafood to the mix. Good sources of omega-3s are salmon, sardines, anchovies, herring, mackerel, and tuna. You should be concerned about the mercury content of some fish, particularly larger ones. Wild-caught salmon, anchovies, and herring usually have low levels of mercury.
Avoid farm-raised salmon since the fish is more likely to contain unhealthy chemicals like PCBs and dioxins. Most salmon served in restaurants and in the fresh and frozen seafood section of supermarkets is farm-raised. You can find wild-caught salmon in cans though. Make sure it’s labeled as “wild-caught” or Alaskan. It’s confusing because Atlantic salmon sounds like it comes from the wild but it’s actually farmed. Always question where your fish comes from.
What about Plant-Based Sources of Omega-3s?
Plant-based omega-3 sources like flaxseed, chia and walnuts have health benefits but not necessarily the same benefits as the omega-3s from fatty fish. The omega-3s from plant sources are short-chain fatty acids, whereas the ones in fatty fish are long-chained. Your body can convert a small percentage of the short-chain omega-3s to long-chain but it’s usually less than 15%. That’s why it’s best to get omega-3s from fish, although flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts are healthy foods.
The Bottom Line?
When you choose your protein source, don’t forget about the importance of getting enough omega-3s in your diet. It’s a small thing you can do to reduce inflammation and keep your cells healthy.
Annals of Internal Medicine, 2013 Apr;158(7):515-525.
Ohio State University. “Omega-3 Supplements May Slow A Biological Effect of Aging”
Eur Heart J (2009) 30 (12): 1495-1500.
Eurekalert.org. “Exercise May Prevent Stress on Telomeres, a Measure of Cell Health”
Institute for Health and the Environment. “First Global Study Reveals Health Risks of Widely Eaten Farm Raised Salmon: First Global Study Reveals Health Risks of Widely Eaten Farm Raised Salmon”