In a comprehensive analysis of human studies conducted by Harvard School of Public Health, professors Dariush Mozaffarian and Eric Rimm calculated that eating about two grams per week of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, which is equal to about one or two servings of fatty fish a week, reduces the chances of dying from heart disease by more than one third. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that fish be consumed twice a week to reap the benefits of lowering your heart rate, blood pressure and improving blood vessel function. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that fish is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, low in saturated fat and high in protein.
However, despite these benefits, there has been great cause for concern regarding the consumption of fish, particularly as it relates to the mercury found in fish and its detrimental effects on the body. Mercury poisoning is a type of metal poisoning and a medical condition caused by exposure to mercury or its compounds. Mercury is contained in various products and environmental factors, but one of the greatest risks of mercury exposure is contaminated fish.
The aftermath of radiation spills from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactor caused by the March 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami sparked great debate as to the safety of fish for Americans. According to a statement made by the Japanese government, since the earthquake, radioactive water continues to pour into the Pacific Ocean at record levels – three hundred tons per day – which is approximately enough to fill the size of an Olympic size pool every eight days. According to a report by the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety, that initial breakdown caused “the largest single contribution of radionuclides to the marine environment ever observed.” This water is infecting wildlife as a result.
Debunking the Fear of Radioactive Fish
Nicholas Fisher is a professor at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University in New York. He’s been measuring radioactivity in seafood since the Fukushima accident in March 2011. He authored a leading study that found radioactive isotopes in 15 bluefin captured from the Pacific Ocean waters near San Diego, California. “Radioactivity in the fish that arrive in North America is detectable, but just barely,” he said. “No measurements we’ve made are a public health concern. If we found scary-high levels of radioactivity we would report them to authorities, but we’re nowhere near that.”
If radioactive levels in fish are at a minimum, does that mean that the benefits far outweigh the risks? According to Gavin Gibbons, a spokesperson for the National Fisheries Institutes, a nonprofit organization backed by the fishing and seafood industry, the answer is yes. “When environmental activists suggest that consumers not eat a healthy protein like seafood, they’re doing more harm than good.” Gibbons sentiments are echoed by a number of organizations, including the AHA and FDA. Mary Ellen Bingham, Head Sports Dietician at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, stated that, “Fish consumption is recommended because of the EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids that are beneficial for heart health. There are environmental concerns with regard to eating fish, but this is the case for other protein foods as well, such as chicken, pork or beef.”
Sustainable Seafood as Means of Healthy Nutrition
Clearly many experts claim fish can have numerous health benefits; however, it’s confusing for the average consumer to determine which fish is best to purchase and why. In the 1990’s an effort was launched to promote sustainable fishing. Wikipedia defines sustainable fishing as “seafood that is either caught or farmed in ways that consider the long-term vitality of harvested species and the well-being of the oceans.” What does that mean exactly? Basically, it means that certain seafood has been overfished or caught in ways that may cause lasting damage to our oceans and marine life and it is in our best interest to avoid consuming fish caught or harvested using those methods.
Sustainable fishing is a growing concern and is being addressed by a variety of organizations who advocate for the safety of our marine life and oceans. One such organization is Seafood Watch (seafoodwatch.org), which is owned and operated by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation in Monterey, California. Seafood Watch helps educate on selecting fish that is fished or raised with minimal impact to the environment. The website regularly produces lists of fish that are best choices, good alternatives and ones to avoid based on the organization’s mission. By visiting the site, you can easily enter any type of seafood you are curious about to determine its sustainability and whether it is recommended, which is great for helping you make purchasing decisions.
Tim McComsey, registered dietician, personal trainer and owner of TRYM Fitness in Carrollton, Texas, is an advocate for including fish in your diet and also promotes eating sustainable seafood to his clients. “People need to be educated when selecting fish but keep in mind that the benefits of eating sustainable fish far outweighs the downfalls,” said McComsey.
Farm-Raised Versus Wild-Caught Fish
Another consideration when selecting fish is whether to purchase farm-raised or wild-caught fish. Farm-raised fish are raised commercially in tanks, enclosures and controlled pens typically in lakes, ponds, rivers and oceans. Wild-caught fish are as the name implies: wild. They are surviving in bodies of water on their own. There are pros and cons to both types of fish.
Pros & Cons of Farm-Raised Fish
Farm-raised fish are fed a controlled diet made of processed pellets created from anchovies, sardines and other small fish. The fish used to make these pellets are often caught in polluted waters close to shores that run a higher risk of containing industrial chemicals.
Another con of farm-raised is they are also more prone to disease, which can spread quickly to an enclosed population. Sick fish can also escape to surrounding open waters and infect wild populations. To prevent this, farm-raised fish are given antibiotics, which are then passed on to those who eat the fish.
Some pros are typically farm-raised fish are less expensive than wild caught fish and they can potentially contain more omega-3 fatty acids. This is because farmers can control the diet of their fish, ensuring they eat more feed that converts to omega-3’s than a wild-caught fish might eat. However, there is no way for a consumer to determine the exact amount in one piece of fish versus another.
Another pro is farming fish prevents overfishing, which helps to ensure the survival of various fish species.
Pros & Cons of Wild-Caught Fish
A large number of marine biologists argue that there is not enough wild-caught fish to meet the growing demands of people who want to eat fish. This causes a risk of overfishing and thereby depleting the fish population.
Wild-caught fish is considerably more expensive than farm-raised fish. Plus, depending on where you live, obtaining wild-caught fish might require it to be shipped long distances, using up valuable fossil fuels in the process.
On the other hand, wild-caught fish are considered more nutritious, according to sports dietician Mary Ellen Bingham. In a comparison of wild-caught versus farm-raised salmon, wild-caught salmon contained less calories and fat as well as more calcium, zinc and iron.
Since wild-caught fish are not contained, they have more room to move around, which results in increased muscle tone and ultimately more texture and flavor.
What About Mercury Levels?
When it comes to mercury levels, both farm-raised and wild-caught fish are at risk. “Some fish are much higher in mercury than others, including sword fish, mackerel and shark,” said Scottsdale, Arizona based Registered Dietitian Brittney Clarizio. “Other fish vary in mercury content but are filled with healthy omega-3 fatty acids that everyone needs in their diet. A healthy diet should include two 6-oz servings per week of the lower mercury farm-raised or wild-caught fish, whereas the higher mercury-containing fish should be limited to one 6-oz serving per month or less.”
With so much information to take in regarding the benefits of fish, one thing is for sure: it’s important to be educated. Experts agree that knowing where fish comes from and researching what its potentially been exposed to is extremely helpful when making a decision on what to eat.
BETTER FISH CHOICES
“Some fish are much higher in mercury than others, including swordfish, mackerel and shark. Other fish vary in mercury content but are filled with healthy omega-3 fatty acids that everyone needs in their diet. A healthy diet should include two 6-oz servings per week of the lower mercury fish, whereas the higher mercury-containing fish should be limited to one 6-oz serving per month or less,” said Scottsdale, Arizona based Registered Dietitian Brittney Clarizio. Clarizio’s top five choices of low mercury fish include shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish.
TIPS FOR HEALTHY CONSUMPTION
- Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in local lakes, rivers and coastal areas.
- Use low-fat cooking techniques such as baking, broiling, grilling or poaching.
- Eat a variety of types of fish.
- When possible, select wild-caught over farm-raised fish.
- If cleaning your own fish, trim the skin and the fat off.
- Avoid overly processed fish such as fish sticks.
“If you are not a fish eater but want to try to incorporate it into your diet, start with more mild varieties of fish. These include halibut, haddock and mahi-mahi. Balance the taste by flavoring it with lemon or lime juice. Using herbs and spices on your fish can also enhance the flavor. Dill, rosemary, garlic, onion, oregano and paprika make excellent choices or try and dash of cayenne pepper if you like things spicy!”– Kim Miller and Shannon Dougherty, Co-Owners of Fit Mom Diet
The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are plentiful and the best sources are found in fatty fish. However, other sources exist including nuts, seeds, beans, spinach, mangoes, papayas and bananas. Supplements are also a source of omega-3 fatty acids, such as Max Muscle Sport’s Nutrition Essential Omega, a unique blend of the omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids.
Spiced Cranberry Farro with Salmon
Ingredients for Farro
- 1 cup of pre-cooked farro
- 1 teaspoons of fresh grated ginger
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder or minced garlic
- 1 – 32 oz. container of vegetable broth
- 2 bay leaves
- Salt to taste
Ingredients for Salmon
- 3 to 4 4-oz. boneless salmon fillets
- ¼ tablespoons dried cranberries
- 1 head of cauliflower
- ¼ tablespoons of diced red onions
- ¼ tablespoons of chopped walnuts
- 1 cup grated carrots
Instructions for Farro
- Place vegetable broth in a medium saucepan pan and bring to a boil.
- Add farro, bay leaves, ginger and garlic powder, place on simmer and cook until tender (approximately 10-12 minutes). If cooking non pre-cooked farro, cook for approximately 35-40 minutes, adding water if needed.
- Remove bay leaves from saucepan. Drain farro in colander if necessary.
Instructions for Salmon
- Coat pan with non-stick cooking spray. Place salmon fillets in pan, cook on medium heat, turning frequently until browned.
- Steam cauliflower until partially soft.
- Remove salmon from pan leaving oils in pan. Coat pan with non-stick cooking spray and add mixture of cauliflower, carrots, cranberries, walnuts and red onions. Cook on low until heated throughout.
- Mix farro with other cooked ingredients and place salmon on top. Salt to taste and serve.
Recipe Created by The Fit Mom Diet Team, Kim Miller and Shannon Dougherty, FitMomDiet.com
Photo by James Patrick, JamesPatrick.com
Spaghetti Squash Shrimp Medley
- 1 Spaghetti Squash
- 4 oz. Jumbo Prawn Shrimp
- 1 large Chopped Vine Ripe Tomato
- 1 Chopped Green Pepper
- 1 Chopped Yellow Pepper
- 1 tbs. Olive Oil
- 2 tbs. Balsamic Vinegar
- 2 tbs. of Salsa
- Fresh basil
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Cut spaghetti squash in half lengthwise, remove seeds and place face down in a baking pan.
- Add ½ cup of water to bottom of pan and bake squash for approximately 45 minutes.
- Once cooled, separate strands by running a fork through squash until you achieve the spaghetti look.
- On stovetop, place shrimp and olive oil in a pan and warm. Add vegetables, salsa and balsamic vinegar and sauté until mixture is cooked and shrimp is pink throughout.
- Add vegetable and shrimp mixture to spaghetti squash. Top with fresh basil and serve.
Recipe Created by The Fit Mom Diet Team, Kim Miller and Shannon Dougherty, FitMomDiet.com, Photo Copyright Debby Wolvos, dw-photography.net
By Kimberly Miller