In a recent Ph.D. study at the Technical University of Denmark, researcher Sofie Theresa Thompsen calculated a method to find out the total health impact of replacing one food with another. In this specific study, the team set out to determine the health effects of getting the recommended amount of fish intake in the diet and reducing red meat consumption.

The study focused on Danish men and women of all ages. Men over 50 and women of childbearing age, in particular, benefit from such a dietary change the most, the study found. By consuming the recommended amount of 350 grams of fish weekly and reducing red and processed meats, the Danish population could gain 7,000 healthy years of life annually.

“They show that the Danish population as a whole can gain up to 7,000 healthy years of life annually if all adult Danes eat fish in the recommended quantities while at the same time reducing their meat intake. This estimate covers among others the prevention of approximately 170 deaths from coronary heart disease per year,” she says.

This doesn’t mean all fish is created equal. The best results come from eating fatty fish in particular or a mixture of fatty and lean fish. A surprising finding? Eating tuna is detrimental and causes the average person to lose healthy years. This is more pronounced for women of child-bearing age.

“In women of childbearing age, the health benefit is particularly large because the intake of fish containing healthy fish oils will not only benefit the women themselves. The health-promoting properties of fish will also have a beneficial effect in the development of their unborn children, which is taken into account in the overall calculations,” Sofie Theresa Thomsen explains.

These new calculation methods will allow nutritionists and governmental agencies to develop nutritional guidelines for the betterment of population health.