Fish dishes boast several mental and physical health benefits, since fish provide a variety of essential vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids and protein, according to health experts. Much of the power of fish comes from its omega-3 fatty acids.

Incorporating more fish into your diet could result in improved heart health and reduced symptoms of depression or anxiety.

Let’s take a look at the physical, mental and brain health benefits that can come with consuming fish.

What is a superfood?

Superfoods are foods that are rich in essential vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, fiber and protein. Berries, nuts, vegetables, fish and other recognized superfoods are nutrient-dense and crucial to a balanced diet, per Harvard Health.

“Superfoods help promote health by increasing your immune function and decreasing your chance of disease prevention or progression,” registered dietitian Beth Czerwony told the Cleveland Clinic.

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Lower risk of heart disease

Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines and lake trout are rich with omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids assist in lowering blood pressure, decreasing fats in the bloodstream and lowering risk of irregular heartbeat, per the Mayo Clinic.

“Eating fish fights heart disease in several ways. The omega-3 fats in fish protect the heart against the development of erratic and potentially deadly cardiac rhythm disturbances. They also lower blood pressure and heart rate, improve blood vessel function, and, at higher doses, lower triglycerides and may ease inflammation,” reports Harvard Health.

Large observational studies (2012, 2014) suggest that people who frequently consume fish experience a decreased risk of heart attack, stroke or premature death from heart disease.

One study closely followed the diets of more than 40,000 men for a duration of 18 years and found that men who habitually ate at least one serving of fish per week experienced a 15% lower risk of developing heart disease compared to those who did not eat fish regularly.

If you do not enjoy eating seafood regularly, fish oil supplements possess several of the same benefits as fish. Taking fish oil supplements may reduce risk of all-cause mortality, stroke, cardiac death and sudden death, according to the National Institutes of Health.

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Fish could help prevent or minimize depression and anxiety

Substances associated with brain health, such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid are found in fatty fish like salmon, according to Healthline. These nutrients help regulate dopamine and seratonin levels and may ease anxiety.

Studies show that people who frequently consume fish are significantly less likely to suffer from depression. One study found that men who ate Atlantic salmon three times per week over a six-month period reported improved symptoms of depression and anxiety compared to those who ate chicken, pork and beef.

A 2015 meta-analysis, published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, analyzed 25 studies involving more than 150,000 participants. Every study associated fish consumption with depression. Researchers found that those who ate the most fish had a 17% decreased risk of depression than those who ate fish infrequently.

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Fish may provide a boost in brain health

Fish are the ultimate brain food. Oily fish such as tuna, salmon and mackerel offer omega-3 fatty acids, which the body uses to build nerve and brain cells, research shows. People with higher omega-3 levels experience increased blood flow to the brain, resulting in better cognitive abilities, according to a 2017 study.

The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study in 2016 which found an association between habitual fish consumption (once per week) and lowered risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Regular fish consumption might also enhance cognitive skills during middle age and help maintain brain health with age. In a recent study published in the journal Neurology, researchers followed nearly 2,200 dementia-free, stroke-free participants with an average age of 46.

Participants with a diet that included omega-3 fatty acids had larger hippocampal volumes — the hippocampus part of the brain plays a vital role in memory and learning. Researchers suggest these individuals also have a reduced risk of developing dementia.

Protection against aging eyes

The nutrients in fish provide protection against aging eyes. Studies show that fish and omega-3 fatty acids might reduce risk of age-related macular degeneration — the leading cause of impaired vision and blindness.

Researchers closely followed the diets of nearly 40,000 women over the course of a decade. Women who ate fish at least one time per week experienced a 42% reduced risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, compared to the women who ate fish once per month or less.

“Omega-3 fatty acids are important for proper visual development and retinal function. Studies in pre-term and full-term infants suggest that getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in the diet is essential for optimal visual development. Salmon, tuna and other cold-water fish are the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids and can help reduce inflammation, enhance tear production and support the eye’s oily outer layer,” reports the American Optometric Association.

Improved sleep

Insomnia affects roughly 10% of adults worldwide, reports the Cleveland Health Clinic. Incorporating fish into your diet might help improve sleep and decrease symptoms of insomnia.

“Fatty fish may help improve sleep because they are a good source of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, two nutrients that help regulate serotonin. Serotonin is largely responsible for establishing a fixed sleeping and waking cycle,” reports Medical News Today.

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine asked a group of 95 participants to eat a serving of salmon three times per week for a duration of six months. Compared to the control group — who ate chicken, pork or beef — those who ate salmon reported falling asleep faster and functioning better throughout the day.