Fatty Fish and Seafood: Delish and Dense with Nutrition
When I began spouting the health benefits of fatty fish and other seafoods to a group of eager and inspiring women participating in my 21 day Feel Good Food Nutrition Challenge, I decided I needed more than just a few random nuggets of nutrition wisdom to thoroughly cover the topic. Throughout these nutrition "challenges" my goal for participants in to focus on INCLUDING more nutrient dense foods that support healthy living.
Below is a complication of just some of the benefits from a macronutrient and micronutrient standpoint of regularly eating these whole real foods, Enjoy!
Let’s dive into just some of the benefits that eating fatty fish and seafood can provide our bodies. Many of the benefits are derived from the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. These long chain fats are found only in animal based foods and are readily used in our bodies. Higher intakes of omega-3s has been associated with decreased risks in certain chronic diseases, like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and better cognition and mental health.
EPA and DHA are incorporated into cell membranes contributing to fluidity of the cells and allow for better communication of signals from cell to cell. They’re also converted into anti-inflammatory compounds and help to counter and balance inflammation. EPA and DHA are critical for brain and neurological function, particularly in growing foetuses, infants and children, but also for ageing adults. This means that our consumption of these fats affect our cognitive abilities and emotional well being, too.
The richest source of omega-3s are deep water fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and herring, along with pastured beef that’s truly beef grazing on grass, along with dairy sourced from pastured cows, and egg yolks, ideally from pastured hens. Think of it this way: we’re not what we eat - we’re what we eat, eats. Therefore, fish that live in deep water eat smaller fish and algae, and because they’re in cold water they need more fat for insulation, so they covert their fuel to fat, which we then eat.
Similarly, cows and chickens eating grass and bugs convert those foods into omega-3s and generally live longer happier lives which means they aren’t simply being grown to pack on the muscle like conventionally raised animals being fed loads of grain and other things. Generally grass fed cows are lower in total fat, but the fat they accumulate is a greater percentage of omega-3s.
People often ask about omega-3 plant sources, which is particularly important on a vegetarian eating plan, but plants contain a different type of omega-3 called ALA, which must be converted to a usable form in our body. It’s estimated that the conversion rate is extremely low, around 5-15%, meaning it’s extremely inefficient to rely on plant foods to meet our omega-3 needs. Some plant sources of ALA include walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, algae.
In previous years it was thought that we ought to avoid certain high cholesterol foods, such as egg yolks and crustaceans, like prawns, crabs, lobsters, squid and octopus because they would directly raise our blood cholesterol and eventually lead to heart disease. Thankfully, nutrition science has discovered that certain saturated fats and inflammatory oils are more influential in raising blood cholesterol than dietary cholesterol itself.
While the aforementioned food sources contain some cholesterol, they’re very low in fat and great sources of protein. Shellfish, such as mussels, oysters, scallops and clams are excellent sources of lean protein. They’re very low in cholesterol, saturated fat, and calories and contain omega-3 fats making them a heart-healthy mood boosting option.
Aside from being chock full of these amazing fats, fish and seafoods are also great sources of micronutrients that are difficult to come by in land animals and other foods. These include zinc, important for immune function, iodine, which is essential for thyroid function, and selenium, which is quite important when it comes to the concerns over mercury in fish.
Furthermore, some varieties of canned fish, like salmon, sardines, mackerel herring, and anchovies offer additional perks because they have been prepared in such a way that the bones and skin can easily be mashed up and consumed as well. This offers the good fats in the skin as well as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and vitamin D, too.
While small fish and salmon are naturally low in mercury, the selenium found in ocean foods actually binds to mercury and minimises absorption! This fact and the aforementioned benefits of eating fish far outweigh the potential risk of small amounts of mercury. Thus, eating fish at least two to three times weekly is recommended.
Larger the fish live longer lives and therefor have more time to accumulate mercury and other potentially toxic compounds in their tissue from ocean contaminants and eating smaller fish in the food chain (remember that we’re what we eat, eats!). Avoiding fish like shark, swordfish, marlin, and albacore tuna.
For vegetarians, sometimes the nutritional benefits described above are enough to allow for some flexibility in their eating plans since it’s incredibly difficult to meet the body’s optimal nutrient needs consuming a vegetarian diet. Opting for a vegetarian diet is a personal choice defined by many variables, but it may help to understand that certain seafood animals do not have a centralised nervous system and are what is is termed non-sentient beings: they are unable to see of feel anything, including pain. Bivalves, like oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops, are some of the seafoods that fall into this category of non-sentience and may be considered for inclusion on more of a pescatarian eating plan.
Simple preparation methods are recommended to maximise nutrient content. While fried fish does contribute to your overall intake, frying at high temperatures can damage the delicate omega-3 fats and introduce inflammatory fatty acids from the frying oil. Smoked and cured fish are also convenient and tasty sources of high nutrient fish; however, they are quite salty, so be sure to pari with high potassium veggie or fruits to offset the sodium.
Generally speaking, a fillet of fish will take approximately ten minutes of cooking per inch of thickness, and over cooking fish leads to a dry less than desirable end product. It’s likely that fish should be cooked just a bit less than what you actually think is done! Often people think fish needs to completely flake apart to be “done,” but that may actually be slightly overcooked and dry, so try cooking for a minute or two less to retain more moisture and a better texture.
Of course the cooking time depends on the cooking method and temperature (broiling vs poaching, etc), but if baking in the oven at a moderate temperature, such as 180-200, this rule will likely yield a moist and flavourful result. Fish is an excellent “sponge” for flavour and many lend well to asian flavours, like miso, tamari, and ginger or balsamic vinegar, mustard, and maple syrup. Smear it with basil pesto or crushed nuts or let your fish really shine and simply top with a few pats of good butter, dill, and lots of lemon juice. Leftover cooked fish is great thrown into tacos with salsa, sautéed peppers, cabbage, and guacamole! Canned fish is also excellent for making spreads/pate or fish cakes. Double or triple your batch to stock up the freezer for later tasty eats!
I hope this article shed some light on the health benefits of including fish and other seafoods in your eating plan! If you’re not currently meeting the recommendation of two to three servings weekly, aim for starting with one serving per week and work your way up from there. If cooking fish isn’t an option for you or you’re intimidated, consider ordering fish as an entree when dinning out and let the chef take care of the rest!