GOT THE RED MEAT BLUES? It’s no surprise, given research linking red and processed meats with colorectal cancer. If you’re looking for protein to replace your steak or sausages, look no further than your nearest fishmonger.

Fish is an excellent source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, says Stacy Kennedy, a nutritionist for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. “[Omega-3s] are an essential fat, which means our body can’t make it by itself from other foods that we’re eating, so we need to specifically eat foods that are rich in that nutrient.”

Supplementary Advice

If the omega-3 fats in fish are a key to better health, wouldn’t taking fish oil supplements be beneficial too? “In general, a food-first approach is best, especially for patients undergoing cancer treatment,” says Stacy Kennedy, a nutritionist for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Fish offers other important nutrients, like protein and B vitamins, that you miss by just taking a supplement. Plus, supplements are not regulated, “so the quality, the purity, even the amount stated might be variable,” she says.

Some studies suggest that a diet high in fish may help protect against colorectal, breast and other cancers. “When we eat more fish, we probably have to replace something else,” says Mingyang Song, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston. In many cases, the “something else” that fish replaces is red meat.

Red and processed meats contribute to inflammation in the body, which increases the risk of cancer, according to Song. Omega-3 fats can reduce inflammation. “We believe that the anti-inflammatory effect of omega-3 also contributes to its anti-cancer effects,” Song says, while acknowledging that more research is required to understand how diet has an impact on cancer.

Kennedy says that fish with fatty, darker meat are highest in omega-3 fats. These include salmon, lake trout, mackerel, herring, sardines and tuna. Eating around 3 or 4 ounces of fish two or three times a week is enough to reap health benefits. Kennedy says pregnant women may want to stick with small fish, like sardines, which are high in omega-3 fats but lower in mercury. She adds that baking, broiling, roasting or grilling the fish are all “good options.”

Broiled Tilapia With Mustard and Yogurt Sauce

An easy way to prepare an inexpensive type of fish.

  • Canola oil cooking spray
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 6-ounce tilapia fillets
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped (green onions can be substituted)

Turn on broiler. Spray baking dish with cooking spray. Drizzle olive oil on both sides of fillets, and season with salt and pepper. Arrange fillets in baking dish without overlapping. Broil until fish flakes easily, about 8 minutes. Set aside. In small bowl, use a whisk to combine yogurt, mustard, lemon juice and chives. Drizzle fillets with sauce and serve.

Reprinted with permission from the American Institute for Cancer Research