Not surprisingly, many people don’t consider fish to be “meat”. Therefore, they have a perception that the effect of fish flesh is not as unhealthy as the flesh of a mammal or bird. Much of this perception comes from study after study that has found that fish is “heart healthy” or “good for our brains.” Most of this data has been misinterpreted and faulty conclusions are drawn from otherwise reasonable research.
The frequently referenced studies of Okinawan and Mediterranean populations have followed this pattern. The benefits of a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains frequently get credited to small amounts of fish in the diet, just like they are often credited to olive oil and wine. In the case of the famous Okinawan Centenarian Study, for example, only 1% of calories consumed by the residents came from fish; 69% of the diet came from sweet potatoes.1 Yet the perception from this very study is that Okinawans are healthy from a fish-heavy diet.
The problem is that meaningful long-term studies are pored over by individuals or organizations who cherry-pick data, often to reinforce a specific agenda. As Dr. John McDougall says, “A muscle is a muscle, whether it comes from a chicken, cow, or fish.” In other words, the nutrient profile of all animal products, (i.e., high in fat, acid, and cholesterol), and low in fiber and carbohydrates is as true for fish as it is for beef and other meats. In fact, although fish is often marketed as a wise, “heart-healthy” food choice, it has as much cholesterol as beef, chicken, and pork.