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Fish and meat are the most popular protein-rich sources and undeniably the main sources eaten in most homes. Aside from the taste preference, people wonder which is healthier. While fish is commonly judged as better than meat because of its low saturated fat content, a good number of people still flip to a vegetarian diet due to the fear of water pollution which may increase the mercury content of fish. This article will review the benefits and downsides of fish and meats.

Benefits of taking Meat

Meats are broadly categorized as white or red depending on how it looks when cut. Red meats include beef, lamb, pork, game, and goat meat. White meats are usually pale when cut and literally include all meat from birds such as chicken, turkey, duck, and goose. Meats are a rich source of protein, B-vitamins, iron, selenium, and zinc.  Iron is known for its role in producing hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen. Iron deficiency can result in tiredness, heart palpitations, pale skin, and birth complications in pregnant women. B-vitamins, zinc, and selenium are vital for metabolic processes and also help to enhance the immune system.

The Downsides

Processed meats such as hot dog, ham, sausages, bacon e.t.c, has been strongly linked to colorectal cancer. Chemical compounds produced when cooking meats under very high heat such as when pan-frying, smoking, grilling, and barbecuing have been termed carcinogenic and may result in the development of cancer.

A large number of studies have also shown that the long-term consumption of increasing amounts of red meat and particularly processed meat is associated with an increased risk of death, cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer, and type 2 diabetes. This has been attributed to the high content of saturated fat and cholesterol present in red meat which is involved in atherosclerotic processes leading to hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, endothelial dysfunction, and insulin resistance.

Tips on how to maximize health benefits

  1. Minimize intake of red meat by including a variety of other protein-rich sources such as poultry, fish, and plant sources
  2. Choose healthier cooking methods such as boiling, stewing, and air frying.
  3. Reduce intake of processed meats to the barest minimum or on occasions

Benefits of taking Fish

1. Fish is highly nutritious

Fish has been tagged as one of the healthiest foods in the world as it is highly packed with nutrients. Fish are major sources of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin A, B12, and D, and selenium which is usually not in abundance in a plant-based diet.

2. Taking fatty fish or fish oil helps to improve heart health.

Fish are high in unsaturated fatty acids, Vitamin A, B12, and D, all of which are known to protect the heart and improve blood flow. A large number of studies showed that modest consumption of fatty fish of 1-2 servings in a week reduces the risk of coronary death by 36 percent and total mortality by 17percent. It has also been linked to reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer

3. May help in the management of rheumatoid arthritis

Due to its high content of omega-3 fatty acids, fish intake or fish oil supplement has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect and helps to improve arthritis symptoms such as joint swelling and pain, morning stiffness,  pain, and disease activity, and also reduce the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

4. Fish intake enhances brain development and health

Some studies showed that women eating one or more servings of fish per week have children with improved cognitive development compared with those with no fish intake during pregnancy. This supports the recommendation that all pregnant women should take 2-3 servings of fish per week. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish also help to reduce the risk of depression, slow down mental decline in old age and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s diseases.

 The downside

Fish may absorb contaminants found in the waters including Methyl mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

To maximize the nutritional benefits of fish, it is recommended that children, pregnant women, and women within child-bearing age choose fish low in mercury such as sardine, salmon, tilapia, catfish, and general species of mackerel and avoid fish that are high in mercury including shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.

Summary

Eat a variety of protein-rich sources to maximize nutritional benefits, limit red and processed meat intake and choose fish low in mercury content.

References

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