How to Purchase & Prepare Fish With Health In Mind
Here fishy fishy…
Every day we hear more and more about the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and the health benefits they provide. While taking a fish oil supplement is a great way to make sure your body is getting the omega-3 it needs, it’s also beneficial to go straight to the source and consume some tasty seafood. That said, when you tell people to eat more seafood you get a host of reactions ranging from “ew it tastes fishy”, to “I don’t know how to cook it”, or probably the most common these days, “ I don’t’ want to get mercury poisoning”. In this post we are going to debunk some common misconceptions about fish, talk about the best fish for you and how to make sure you are purchasing them sustainably, and give you some pointers for cooking fish.
First off, let’s talk about the health benefits of these scaly sea creatures. Fish are jam-packed with omega-3 fatty acids which help support heart health, cholesterol triglyceride levels, and brain function, as well as decrease inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acid consumption has also been linked to promoting eye health, decreasing depression and anxiety, and reducing symptoms of ADHD in children. But not all fish are created equal. Some fish contain higher levels of omega-3 than others. If you want to get the most omega-3 for your fish, your best bet is to stick to mackerel, salmon, sardines, tuna, and/or cod.
Now that we know why we should be eating more seafood, let’s talk about the common myths and misconceptions that prevent people from adding more fish into their eating pattern.
Myth: Fresh fish is better than frozen fish.
Truth: Frozen fish has the same nutritional value as fresh fish. Freezing methods have vastly improved in recent years which now makes it easy and safe for us to enjoy fish from anywhere in the world without compromising quality. Frozen fish tends to be less expensive as well.
Myth: Farmed fish is just as good as wild caught
Truth: The fish farming industry has gotten a lot of slack in recent years and that’s not without good reason. Some of the positives of fish farms are that they are regulated and held to an industry standard to produce a good quality fish. However, in most cases fish that are farmed are fed a pellet diet consisting of mostly corn and soy (most of, if not all, is genetically modified) and due to their poor diet can contain up to 50% less omega-3 fatty acids. Some farmed fish, such as salmon, are synthetically colored to have that bright pink hue. Fish farms may also breed disease, so there is sometimes the need for antibiotics to treat the fish. For these reasons, it is best to purchase wild caught seafood whenever possible. And if this isn’t possible, do some research to find providers with high standards for their seafood, such as Whole Foods, who make sure their farm-raised products are free of GMO feed, antibiotics, and artificial colors as well as sourced from farms that do not harm the environment. Research is key and recommendations will continue to evolve where this issue is concerned.
Myth: You should limit fish because it contains mercury.
Truth: All fish have trace amounts of mercury. Keep in mind that mercury is a natural element found in the air, water and all living things. There has been recent concern when it comes to fish consumption and mercury poisoning since it is unsafe to consume large amounts of mercury. Unfortunately, that has scared most people away from eating fish even though it is generally safe and does not contain enough mercury per serving to give someone mercury poisoning. That said, some fish are much higher in mercury than others. For example, sharks, swordfish, mackerel and large tuna (canned tuna is made from skipjack tuna which has much less mercury) are higher in mercury compared to other fish. If you’re concerned you may want to avoid those particular fish. One caveat to all of this: there are strict dietary guidelines for women who are pregnant or nursing and for young children that should be followed in regards to fish consumption as it pertains to mercury content.
Myth: Fish has a strong smell and tastes fishy.
Truth: Fish should not have a strong smell if it is fresh or was freshly frozen and stored properly. If fish is stinky, it is usually a sign that it is old. That rings true for how it smells as well as how it tastes. That said, there are fish that are a tad fishier in taste due to their oil content. Salmon, mackerel, and sardines are fishier tasting compared to tilapia, cod, and halibut which are less oily fish. Consider too that cooking the fish with the skin on and the blood line left in can also produce a smellier and fishier tasting fish, so it is best to remove those.
Some general considerations:
Since we recommend consuming wild caught fish, it is very important to make decisions on fish consumption based off of the sustainability of that fish species. Rest assured that a careful eye is kept on the world’s seafood population in hopes of preventing the over-fishing and the eventual extinction of certain species, but we can do our part too. When you buy and consume seafood make sure it is sustainable. This means multiple things: 1) that the seafood was caught and/or farmed in a way that did not harm other marine life or the environment, and (2) that the particular species of fish is not currently being over-fished. If you go to Seafoodwatch.org you can pick your state and it will give you an updated list on the best fish to purchase based off of sustainability in your region.
Lastly, we acknowledge that a big hurdle for people consuming fish is that they simply don’t know how to prepare it. Fish is a lot easier to cook than most people think. Below are a few easy recipes to start with. Both of these recipes are baked but fish is also delicious on the grill or even cooked on the stovetop in a sauté pan.
Lemon Ginger Halibut (can use swordfish, cod, or salmon as well)
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 (5oz) fish fillets
- 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 1 pinch black pepper
- 1 tsp. dried thyme
- ½ tsp. ginger
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Brush fish fillets with olive oil.
- Sprinkle fillets with lemon juice, black pepper, and ginger. Bake for 20 minutes.
- Squeeze extra lemon juice over fillets if desired and serve with your favorite vegetables.
Baked Salmon in Dill Sauce
- 2 lb.salmon fillet
- 3 Tbsp. plain yogurt
- 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 1 tsp. dill weed
- Mix yogurt, lemon juice and dill together in a small bowl.
- Place fish in a glass baking dish, skin side down.
- Top fish with yogurt sauce and bake uncovered for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Can be served hot or cold.
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