Eating oily fish is as good for you as quitting smoking, says new study

Your favourite fish or supplements can boost life expectancy the same as quitting smoking, according to science

Salmon and salad, part of a Mediterranean diet
(Image credit: Getty Images)

There are few diets that are as consistently lauded as the Mediterranean diet. This methodology of eating as if you were on a Greek island includes less processed meats like bacon and burgers and simple, starchy carbs like fries. Instead, it involves more nuts, seeds, leafy salads, olive oil and plenty of oily fish as dietary staples.

 Olive oil and oily fish (and by extension, the best fish oil supplements, along with the best supplements for joints) contain omega-3, a type of fatty acid which is extremely beneficial to the human body. Omega-3 and its partner omega-6 contribute to decreased levels of inflammation in the body. 

Inflammation is associated with a whole variety of degenerative diseases including cancer, hypertension, obesity and heart disease, and while it's often age-related, it can also be brought about by an unhealthy lifestyle. 

We always knew it was good for us, but new research has revealed the extent of it. It's been found that high levels of omega-3 acids in the blood increase life expectancy by around five years, as good as quitting smoking. 

Vitamin D foods: salmon and brown rice

(Image credit: Unsplash / Travis Yewell)

Dr. Aleix Sala-Vila, of the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute, said: "Being a regular smoker takes 4.7 years off your life expectancy, the same as you gain if you have high levels of omega-3 acids in your blood.

"It reinforces the idea that small changes in diet in the right direction can have a much more powerful effect than we think, and it is never too late or too early to make these changes."

How to get started with the Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet is high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, olive oil, whole grains and oily fish. Lots of leafy salads with tomatoes (rich in vitamin C, which helps protect cells, as well as antioxidants and flavanoids), olives (containing vitamin E, which protects healthy skin, eyes and your immune system), beans, avocados, wholegrains like barley and quinoa and, of course, oily fish like salmon, trout and snapper. 

Turning down processed meats is key to the success of this diet: processed red meats like bacon and fried chicken act as carcinogenics, linked with raising your cancer risks. They're often fried in butter or vegetable oils, which is less beneficial than olive oil. 

White meats and good-quality whole cuts of red meat, like steak, are fine – providing they're cooked in a healthy way, like grilling. To get you started, we've rated a selection of the best health grills on the market, which you can find in the link above.  

Matt Evans
Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and Channel Editor at Fit&Well. He's previously written for titles like Men's Health and Red Bull, and covers all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. 

Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen kickboxer and runner. His top fitness tip? Stretch.