How much fish do you eat? Be honest. Half a can of tuna a week? A fillet of cod every other fortnight? A bit of smoked salmon draped over a bagel? A handful of clams in that delicious spaghetti vongole you had in Sicily over the summer?
If you can’t remember how much fish you eat, you’re not eating enough. And you could be seriously damaging your health, putting yourself at higher risk of heart disease, depression, arthritis, dementia, macular degeneration, low immunity and even cancer.
And if you’re not eating enough fish while pregnant, it could be impairing foetal development.
According to the NHS, a healthy diet should include at least two portions of fish per week, including, crucially, at least one oily fish – such as salmon, mackerel, trout, herring sardines and swordfish – the ones rich in essential long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, the macro-nutrient that isn’t called ‘essential’ for nothing.
Salmon, in particular, is an excellent source of omega-3, while also being super-rich in vitamin B12, vitamin D, selenium, niacin, protein, phosphorus, vitamin B6, choline, pantothenic acid, biotin, and potassium. Phew.
‘Despite being one of the most well-studied macro-nutrients – particularly in terms of Eskimo diets – omega-3 is something we have been struggling to get enough of into our diets for years,’ says Helen Seward, nutritionist for Marks & Spencer. ‘People are nervous about cooking fish, but omega-3 is linked to a number of conditions, particularly cardiovascular, and its effects on foetal development are well-documented.
‘The NHS recommendation is that both adults and children eat at least one fillet of oily fish per week, that’s 140g, but we’re only getting around 87g, and children only 30g. We’re not reaching the level we need at all.
‘Moreover, it’s about eating omega-3 within the matrix fish as a whole – so if you take fish oil supplements you might not be getting enough. And if you’re not actually eating fish, you need to think about what it’s being substituted for in your diet.’
Distressingly, due to the high cost of omega-3, levels of the essential fatty acid found in farmed salmon have halved in recent years, meaning that to get the desired amount we now need to eat twice as much oily fish.
Marks & Spencer, however, has worked closely with Scottish salmon producers for a decade in order to maintain high levels of omega-3 in their salmon, meaning that one fillet of M&S Lochmuir farmed salmon or M&S wild salmon contains all the omega-3 you’ll need for a week.