Replacing meat with fish

A Danish diet has lot of fat in it because of the high intake of the red and processed meat. But if they replace the meat with fish they will gain a lot of health benefit; according to calculations from the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark. Men over 50 and women of childbearing age in particular would benefit from such a change in diet.

In a Ph.D. study at the National Food Institute, Sofie Theresa Thomsen; has developed a method to calculate the total health impact of replacing one food with another in the diet. The method has been used to assess the health impact that would be achieved by replacing red and processed meat with fish, so the intake reaches the recommended weekly intake of 350 grams of fish.

The intake of saturated fat

Fish is an important source of healthy fatty acids and vitamin D, but may also contain potentially harmful substances such as methyl-mercury. Red and processed meat contributes to the intake of saturated fat in the Danish diet; and is associated with the development of different types of cancer; but red meat is also an important source of e.g. dietary iron. Replacing red and processed meat with fish in the Danish diet can therefore have a health impact on human health.

Risk-benefit assessments weigh up the beneficial and adverse health effects; by estimating how many healthy years of life a population gains because of health improvements; or lose due to reduced quality of life or by dying earlier than expected.

Go easy on the tuna

The greatest health benefit comes from eating only fatty fish (such as herring and mackerel); or a mixture of fatty and lean fish (such as plaice and Pollock); while a smaller health gain is achieved by eating only lean fish. This is because fatty fish contains larger amounts of beneficial fatty acids.

On the other hand, the calculations show a significant health loss if tuna is the only type of fish in the diet; because tuna is both low in beneficial fatty acids and can have high concentrations of methyl-mercury. The health loss is calculated as particularly high among women of childbearing age; as intake of fish with a high concentration of methyl-mercury can damage unborn children’s brain development.

Furthermore, the study shows that it is possible to reduce the proportion of Danes who have an insufficient intake of vitamin D significantly by replacing some of the red and processed meat with a mixture of fatty and lean fish. The study also points out that the proportion of Danes with an insufficient intake of dietary iron will not increase despite the lowered meat intake.