Most Americans don't eat the recommended servings of fish, which are rich in brain and heart-healthy fats.

The Health Benefits of Eating Fish

The evidence is in – fish is an important part of a healthy diet, providing nutrients not available in other foods. Yet while nutritionists and the American Heart Association recommend eating at least two servings of fish a week, research shows most Americans consume less than half that amount. Here are the top health benefits of eating fish, and why you need to make more room in your diet for seafood.

Fish Is Rich in Heart-Healthy Omega-3s

The fat in fish contains long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which keep blood vessels strong and prevent heart attacks. According to the American Heart Association, omega-3 fatty acids decrease the risk of arhythmias (abnormal heartbeats) and lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, slowing the buildup of artery-thickening plaque. In fact, an analysis of more than 20 large-scale studies found that one to two 3-ounce servings a week of fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, or sardines reduces the risk of dying from heart disease by 36 percent.

Fish Is High in Vitamins and Minerals

Selenium is an important mineral thought to support healthy thyroid function and prevent inflammation and age-related cell damage. Fish is one of the best sources of selenium, which is only present in a limited number of foods. Fish is also rich in magnesium, which helps muscles function well and works together with calcium to strengthen bones. And salmon and trout are a good source of vitamin B-12, which your body needs to make red blood cells and keep the central nervous system functioning well.

Fish Replaces Saturated Fat

While fish is high in protein, it’s not high in saturated fat like beef and pork. Therefore when you make fish the centerpiece of your meal, you do yourself a double favor. And fish has weight-loss benefits as well, with most types containing between 5 and 15 percent fat, less than lean meat. And consider this: a three-ounce serving of sole or cod has just 100 calories compared with 214 in the same amount of steak.

Eating Fish Builds Strong Bones

Vitamin D plays a key role in building healthy bones, and small fish low on the food chain like herring and sardines are tops when it comes to vitamin D, with more than 1300 IUs (international units) in one three-ounce serving. Herring, sardines, and other whole canned fish are also high in calcium and other bone-building nutrients.

Most Popular Types of Fish are Safe

You’ve probably heard that it’s bad to eat too much fish because of the risk of mercury. This is true, but the benefits and risks of eating fish vary depending on a person’s stage of life, and pregnant women and children are the main ones at risk. For the average full grown adult, the health benefits of eating fish twice a week outweigh the risk.

It’s also important to realize that some types of fish contain much more mercury than others. The worst offenders are shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish – luckily fish we don’t eat very often. Popular types of fish like canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish are much lower in mercury, and it’s safe to eat your recommended two servings a week.

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.