Weighing The Evidence For Eating Fish
By Pam Helminger, RD LDN
If you’re like the average American, you enjoy a fish meal at least once a week. Fish provides many options for someone who is looking to make a healthy change in their diet. You can stuff it. Bake it. Even fry it on occasion. That’s why it’s baffling that fish is consumed far less than other sources of animal protein like beef, pork or chicken. But, fish is good for you, much better than red meat which is associated with heart disease. And because it’s lean and low in calories, it can help you to maintain your weight.
There are many health benefits of eating fish—plus you can add more variety to your diet. Fish is a lean protein source, which when substituted for saturated fat sources such as those in red meat, it may lower your cholesterol.
Omega-3 fatty acids have long been recognized for their ability to reduce the risk of dying of heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends eating a 3-ounce serving of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids at least twice per week. Some researchers believe that antibiotics, pesticides, and other chemicals may be harmful to people who eat fish. Therefore it may be wise to consume wild caught fish. Also, keep in mind that most freshwater fish are lower in omega-3 fatty acids than saltwater fish.
Fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids include wild salmon, albacore tuna, lake trout, Atlantic mackerel, Atlantic herring and sardines. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fatty fish, are thought to have many benefits including:
- reducing inflammation throughout the body
- decreasing triglycerides
- lowering blood pressure
- reducing blood clotting
- reducing risks of dementia
- boosting immunity and improvement of arthritis symptoms
- improving learning ability (especially in children)
The evidence that supports the benefits of eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids is stronger than that for taking omega-3 supplements. However, supplements may still be a good option worth discussing with your doctor, especially for those who do not eat fish. There are vegetarian-friendly supplements made from algae for an alternative to fish oil. Other food sources that contain some omega-3 fatty acids include egg yolks from omega-3 enhanced eggs, flaxseed, walnuts, canola oil, and soybeans. Though, similar to supplements, the evidence of heart-healthy benefits from eating these foods is not as strong as it is from eating fish.
Realizing that the smell of fish is a turnoff for many people who do not eat fish, these are some tips that may be helpful:
Before cooking any fish squeeze lime or lemon juice over it, season with salt and pepper and let it stand at room temperature for about an hour. The acid of the juice will soften the connective tissues of the fish so that a shorter cooking time is necessary and it will also remain a nice color.
In place of fresh lemon or lime, try crystallized lemon or lime products that come in a shaker, which may be found on the baking aisle of most grocery stores.
To get rid of odors while cooking fish, add two tablespoons of vinegar to two cups of water and simmer it in a small saucepan while the fish is cooking.
When baking fish, lay it on a bed of thinly sliced onions, parsley and lettuce leaves. This way, the fish will avoid sticking and it will have a savory taste.
Enjoy trying new recipes when it comes to fish and be sure to have an open mind if you are trying foods you have never tasted before. They just might become your new favorite!