Sure fish is good for the heart, but only for people with no major cardiovascular problems, right? Well, not according to a recent group of studies. A review of these studies (recently published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology) found that consuming omega-3 fish oil protected the heart not just in healthy people but in patients with established cardiovascular disease as well. It also decreased the risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythm), heart attack, and sudden cardiac death. It even appears to reduce blood pressure slightly and promotes overall good health.

Because the body doesn't produce omega-3 fatty acids, you must get them through eating certain types of oily seafood such as salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, herring, trout, or shellfish, which contain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the two fatty acids essential for heart health; walnuts; and vegetable oils like flaxseed/linseed, canola, soybean and olive oil, which contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Although it's believed that ALA acid may have similar heart protective benefits, the scientific evidence is less clear.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that healthy people with no history of heart disease eat a variety of fish, preferably oily fish, at least twice a week. For those with heart disease, the AHA suggests consuming about one gram of EPA and DHA acids a day, preferably through oily fish. While omega-3 fatty acids may be obtained through  EPA and DHA supplements, high doses-more than three grams of EPA and DHA per day-may cause excessive bleeding. Before taking any over-the-counter DHA and EPA dietary supplements, check with your doctor to determine the right dose for you.

The Benefits of Wild Fish vs. Farm-Raised

In 2004, the journal Science reported that farm raised salmon contained ten times more toxins, including the carcinogens polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), than wild salmon and recommended that farm-raised salmon be eaten just once a month or even every two months. Because wild salmon get their sustenance from a variety of sources in the ocean, they don't contain the same high levels of contaminants.

Your best bet:  If possible, eat less farm-raised fish. And because PCBs are stored in the fat portion of the fish, whether your fish is farm raised or wild, trimming the skin before grilling or broiling can reduce your intake of PCBs.