Private group expands on UK government’s 2004 advice to eat fish regularly
by Craig Weatherby
From the land of fish and chips comes a recommendation to eat more fish fat. This marks the second time in less than a year that authoritative British health bodies have urged Britons to eat fish to protect heart health.
Last June, the Food Standards Agency (FSA)—Britain’s counterpart to the FDA and USDA—issued a recommendation that Britons eat one portion of oily fish per week.
This recommendation followed a similar recommendation from the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, and recent approval by the US Food and Drug Administration of a heart-health claim for omega-3 fatty acids.
As the FSA’s 2004 report said, “An increase in population oily fish consumption to one portion a week ... would confer significant public health benefits in terms of reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. There is also evidence that increased fish consumption might have beneficial effects on foetal [fetal] development.”
British authorities say that heart disease killed some 117,500 Britons in 2002, but people in the UK still only eat a third of a portion of oily fish per week, while 70 percent eat no fish at all.
The FSA, recognizing the mercury contamination issue, specified that girls and women who might have a child one day, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, can safely consume up to two portions of oily fish a week, or up to four medium-size cans of tuna, or two tuna steaks a week.
The British agency said that other women, as well as men and boys, can safely enjoy up to four portions of oily fish a week.
UK health advocacy group supports omega-3 health claim
The FSA’s recommendation was echoed earlier this month by a report from a respected food science group in the UK, called the Joint Health Claims Initiative (JHCI).
The JCHI—which recommends health claims for foods only rarely—is a joint venture between UK consumer organizations, UK government authorities, and UK industry trade associations, which was set up to establish a Code of Practice for health claims on food.
Earlier this month, the JHCI said that the seven leading UK scientists on its expert committee had approved a heart-health claim for the long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (EPA and DHA) found only in fish. The finding does not cover the short-chain omega-3 fatty acid found in plant foods (alpha-linolenic acid), because the evidence suggests it is not as effective in heart protection.
The claim approved by the JCHI reads as follows: “Eating 3 grams weekly, or 0.45 grams daily, long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids [EPA and DHA], as part of a healthy lifestyle, helps maintain heart health.” This amount of omega-3s can be obtained by eating about two fish meals per week.
• UK Food Standards Agency Web site at http://www.food.gov.uk/news/newsarchive/2004/jun/oilyfishwebcast, accessed March 24, 2005
• Joint Health Claims Initiative Web site at http://www.jhci.org.uk/approv/omega.htm, accessed March 24, 2005