Have you made the commitment to eat healthier?
Perhaps you’d like to lose a bit of weight. Or maybe you’ve been advised that you’re at risk for coronary heart disease, or have already been diagnosed with CHD.
If you’re considering adding more fish to your diet because of their high concentration of healthy nutrients, please read on.
In this article we’re going to cover some of the health benefits of eating fish, seafood, and aquatic invertebrates, how to select the best choices for optimal well-being, and a couple of recipes to prepare delicious fish-based dishes that are quick and easy to make – so let’s get to it.
Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, sometimes referred to as O3FA’s or n-3 fatty acids, are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are among the essential nutrients required for health, vitality and energy. And as our bodies don’t produce these fats, we need to get them from food sources.
There are two primary groups necessary for our requirements. One type is alpha-linoleic acid, (AHA), and comes from green veggies in the brassica family such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale as well as salad greens. AHA is also found in quantity in vegetable oils – canola, soybean, flaxseed and walnuts.
The second type, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is found primarily in the meat of fatty fish, which are listed below.
Some Benefits from Eating More Fish
O3FA’s are noted for their many health benefits such as:
- The control of blood clotting.
- Building cell membranes in our brains.
- Protection against heart disease – decreasing risk of arrhythmias and reducing both high triglyceride levels and plaque in the arteries.
- A slight reduction in high blood pressure.1
Recent studies are also encouraging in their findings; indications are for beneficial properties in the prevention and regulation of numerous other areas of concern.
Of particular interest is their effect on chronic inflammation, which is associated with accelerated aging and the following diseases: rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and COPD, neurodegenerative conditions that affect cognition and metabolic syndrome.2
And Some Concerns
If you’ve heard about the benefits of adding more seafood to your meal plans, you’ve probably also heard about some concerns. Let’s have a look to see how they balance out.
The main toxins found in fish are:
- Mercury (a heavy metal).
- Dioxins (a by-product of pesticide production and paper manufacturing), and
- Polychlorinated biphenyls or PCB’s (man-made chemicals once used in the insulation of electrical transformers, lubricants, plastics, adhesives, flame-retardant paint, etc).3
According to this recent article on heart disease posted on the Mayo Clinic’s website, the health benefits of eating fish far outweigh concerns about toxins and mercury levels. This is especially relevant as we hit middle age and beyond – as long we’re selective in the species we eat.
Moreover, the American Heart Association recommends eating a variety of marine life for people with and without heart disease, but again avoiding certain types. Even pregnant women and young children can enjoy heart-smart benefits by limiting their intake and choosing wisely.
The AHA recommends4 the following guidelines for consumption:
– At least two servings per week, each serving being 3.5 ounces of cooked fish.
– Expectant mothers, women who are breast feeding and children should restrict intake to a total of 12 ounces per week of cooked fish, and no more than 6 ounces of canned tuna; with no selections being made from the species with high toxin levels.
Good Fish, Bad Fish
How can you tell which varieties to avoid? The bigger fish in the food chain have larger amounts of mercury – they eat small ones and so accumulate more in their systems. And, they live longer so have more time to collect toxins. Avoid larger species such as shark, swordfish, tilefish, marlin and king mackerel.
Which are best? Choose from a list of fatty fish such as wild salmon, common mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna for high levels of O3FA’s. And here’s some choices that are low in mercury and pollutants – shrimp (fajitas, anyone?), wild salmon, pollock, catfish, cod, flounder, sole and canned light tuna.
For more information, this table on the American Heart Association’s web site compares levels of n-3 fatty acids and mercury contamination in fish. And this page of the Food and Drug Administration’s website has an extensive list of fish and comparative mercury levels.
Buying, Preparation and Cooking
I happen to live in the Pacific Northwest so I’m set and have fresh seafood available all the time and pretty much all-year around. However, not everyone is so lucky.
Whether you buy from a market specializing in seafood or from your local grocer, always ensure your selection is fresh and firm. It’s fish, and will smell like it, but it shouldn’t smell over-the-top ‘fishy’ – if it does, give it a pass as it’s been on the shelf too long.
When purchasing, remember that certain varieties will ‘shrink’ in the cooking process, so choose the weight that will correspond to the cooked product.
Before cooking, rinse your selection in cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Remove any bones from filets with a pair of small, bent-tip needle nose pliers; these give a much better grip than tweezers.
You can pick up a good pair for a reasonable price at any crafters’ store, and wash with warm soapy water before using. Also, you’ll have to stash them somewhere safe in your kitchen so the mechanically minded in your household don’t swipe them for other uses.
The best methods for cooking are baking and grilling; the newest method of grilling that involves using cedar or hardwood planks and adds a nice new flavor. Planks also avoids charring the food which may cause carcinogens to form in the burnt areas.
Avoid frying and deep-frying as they counteract the heart-smart benefits of seafood and its fresh water counterparts. Sadly, enjoying a meal of fish and chips at the beach should be restricted to very occasional indulgences, though you can make our lighter, gluten-free salt and vinegar baked fish whenever that craving strikes!
Salmon and invertebrates such as oysters, prawns and scallops are all well suited for the barbeque. It’s also not too difficult to transform delicious, healthy salmon into a mouth watering burger, and we’ve got the recipe to prove it!
Cod and clams make wonderful, hearty chowders for winter – add mussels, prawns and scallops for a tasty bouillabaisse, another winter treat. It’s easy to prepare in larger pots made for cooking crabs, clams, and lobster.
Sole, flounder, red snapper, pollock, trout, salmon and cod all do well in the oven with a simple sauce of herbs, pepper and lemon juice. Serve with a salad, lightly steamed vegetables and brown rice or quinoa, for a grain-free option. You can also use the simply cooked fish as the main component of a sushi bowl.
For a quick dinner, make our recipe for fish with brown butter sauce, using sole.
To add flavor to your dish, season with spices, herbs, the juice and zest of lemons and limes, low-sodium broths and low-fat sauces. Opt to create your own sauces and condiments over store bought products, as commercial products are often made with high levels of sugar, preservatives and saturated fats. These ‘hidden’ ingredients contribute to metabolic syndrome; the accumulation of excess belly fat, which is major factor in contributing to heart disease.
Choosing to add a variety of sea food to your eating plan on a regular basis is cost effective, simple, delicious and heart-smart. It’s one more step in looking after your health, and that’s a choice we all need to be making.
Try out the following recipes – they’re quick and easy preparation makes these healthful, savory dishes taste even more scrumptious.
1Dr. Frank Sacks, Harvard.edu. Retrieved from http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/omega-3/
2Logan Bronwell, lifeextension.org Retrieved from http://www.lef.org/Magazine/2012/9/Fish-Oils-Health-Benefits/Page-01.
3Green Facts, greenfacts.org. Retrieved from http://www.greenfacts.org/en/pcbs/l-2/1-polychlorinated-biphenyls.htm
4American Heart Association, heart.org. Retrieved from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/General/Fish-and-Omega-3-Fatty-Acids_UCM_303248_Article.jsp
About Lorna Kring
Recently retired as a costume specialist in the TV and film industry, Lorna now enjoys blogging on contemporary lifestyle themes. A bit daft about the garden, she’s particularly obsessed with organic tomatoes and herbs, and delights in breaking bread with family and friends.