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Herring Healthy and Environmentally Friendly

SWEDEN - Herring is just as good for the heart and blood vessels as other fatty fishes, according to a doctoral dissertation from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden.

It is the first specific study of the health effects of herring.

Unlike many other kinds of fish, herring is very inexpensive, and it is one of the few species that are fished in an ecologically sustainable manner.

In earlier studies of the health effects of fatty fish, researchers have addressed a mixture of fish species. Helen Lindqvist, a doctoral candidate at the Division for Food Science at Chalmers, can now present the health effects of herring alone.

"The combination of various compounds is rather similar among fatty fish species," she reports.

"Herring is extremely rich in omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D, selenium, and vitamin B12, compounds that most people need to eat more of. But one of the greatest advantages of herring is there is still lots of it available. Today only a small fraction of herring catches is used for food. Most of it goes to animal fodder. It would be more resource-effective if we ate more herring, instead of grinding catches into fishmeal to feed salmon, for example."

Helen Lindqvist carried out four studies, three on humans and one on rats, in which she was able to demonstrate several health benefits of consuming herring: The content of "good cholesterol," HDL, increased in the blood of humans. In the rat study the content of oxidation products declined in the blood, and the size of fat cells and blood lipid content both improved. The omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA in the blood increase with the ingestion of fatty fish, which in turn was shown to be associated with less atherosclerosis in humans.

All of these factors are clearly related to cardiovascular diseases and/or diabetes.

Most the health effects of herring are due to its content of omega 3 fatty acids, which are found in fish oil. But Helen Lindqvist has also shown that parts of the fish other than its oil are healthful, by dividing up the fish into various fractions in one of the studies. The liquid fraction – which does not contain fatty acids-­reduced the amount of oxidation products in the blood. In other words, herring contains antioxidants that are lost if you substitute fish oil capsules for fish. What's more, whole herring contains a number of proteins and vitamins.

In one of the studies Helen Lindqvist collaborated with restaurateur Leif Mannerström, who created several innovative herring recipes. "Not everyone loves the typical herring taste, but it's not at all noticeable in some of the recipes," she says. "Herring can be prepared like any other fish-Thai-inspired or with curry, for example."

Ellen Hardy

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