Populations around the world that eat fish regularly live longer and have less chronic disease than populations that do not. Whether this is because fish displaces meat or because it has positive attributes of its own is not clear. Certainly, fish provides high-quality protein without the saturated fat present in commercially raised (feedlot) meat and poultry. It is the fatty fish from cold northern waters – also provide omega-3 fatty acids, the special, unsaturated fats our bodies need for optimum health. The cold water fish are; wild salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and bluefish.
Most Americans are deficient in omega-3s and as a result are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, cancer, inflammatory disorders, and mental and emotional problems. Recent research suggests that supplementing the diet with omega-3 fatty acids not only can reduce these risks but can also help treat depression, bipolar disorder, autism, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It’s the omega-3 fatty acids that are associated with many health benefits, including protection against heart disease and possibly stroke. New studies are identifying potential benefits for a wide range of conditions including cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and other autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, not to mention the studies on fresh fish diets and how they delay Dementia, protect memory and ward-off Alzheimer’s.
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential nutrients for health. We need omega-3 fatty acids for numerous normal body functions, such as controlling blood clotting and building cell membranes in the brain, and since our bodies cannot make omega-3 fats, we must get them through food.
For good health, you should aim to get at least one rich source of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet every day.
Omega-6 fatty acids (also known as n-6 fatty acids) are also polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential nutrients, meaning that our bodies cannot make them and we must obtain them from food as well. They are abundant in the Western diet; common sources include safflower, corn, cottonseed, and soybean oils. Omega-6 fatty acids lower LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) and reduce inflammation, and they are protective against heart disease.
Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are healthy. While there is a theory that omega-3 fatty acids are better for our health than omega-6 fatty acids, this is not supported by the latest evidence. Thus the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio is basically the “good divided by the good,” so it is of no value in evaluating diet quality or predicting disease.
Clearly, we need to buy our cold water fish from a reputable source and, once the fish is in our own hands, we need to handle it properly so as to not destroy the valuable omega fatty acids. The healthful qualities of fish can be neutralized by unhealthful ways of cooking it. Here are some helpful facts and tips to help you make good choices and handle your fish in the best ways.
Storing and Cooking Fresh Fish
Studies show that the omega-3 content of salmon and other fish is virtually unaffected by freezing, and is lowered only slightly by smoking or proper cooking.
Cooking wild fish using high-temperature broiling or pan-frying will lower its total fat content modestly, without reducing its healthful ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats.
Deep-frying Fish and Omega-3s
Breading and then deep-frying fish will reduce its omega-3 content rather significantly and add omega-6 fats (the omega-6 coming from the cooking oil which will bring the natural balance out of kilter, not so good).
Studies show that breaded, deep-fried fish does not offer the same cardiovascular or stroke-prevention benefits associated with fish that is not fried in vegetable oils.
Air, Light, Heat and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids can be damaged (oxidized) by air, light and heat, causing that rancid odor that signals spoiled seafood.
This is why it’s important to know the source of your fish and seafood, only the most quality-conscious processors will handle fish and seafood properly, thus maintaining nutritional benefits.
What you want to see from the processor is that they take the seafood straight from the open ocean to storage onboard in tanks filled with cold seawater or ice. Then, within hours of harvest, the fish should be filleted and flash-frozen the same day they were caught. It is this type of handling that will maintain the integrity and nutrition of the fish and seafood.
Polyunsaturated oils, including the omega-3 fats, in fresh fish are susceptible to damage from heat, light, and oxygen. When exposed to these elements for too long, the fatty acids in the oil become oxidized, a scientific term that simply means that the oil becomes rancid and you can smell that nasty fishy odor.
Rancidity not only alters the flavor and smell of the oil, but it also diminishes the nutritional value. More importantly, the oxidation of fatty acids produces free radicals, which are believed to play a role in the development of cancer and other degenerative diseases.
A recent study published in the journal Circulation, Heart Failure, sought to ascertain whether fish or the fatty acids they contain are independently associated with risk for incident of heart failure among postmenopausal women. The authors concluded that:
“Increased baked/broiled fish intake may lower [heart failure] risk, whereas increased fried fish intake may increase [heart failure] risk in postmenopausal women.”
Best Source to Buy Fresh Fish and Seafood
While living in the Pacific NW we were fortunate enough to come across the best source for fresh wild fish. I cannot tell you how happy we were to find this source because for years I had stopped buying fish due to the quality never living up to my expectations.
Interestingly, this same source also happens to be the source that both Dr. Andrew Weil and Christiane Northrup, M.D. recommend – yay!
What makes this source so valuable to me is that they also ship! I cannot tell you the delight we get when this wonderful fish is delivered.
Tips for Beyond the Kitchen and Dinner Plate
Our choices make a difference, not only in our health but in the survival of species as well. Here’s a brief rundown on how the wild fish are doing to help you make educated choices.
Wild salmon tastes far better and is more nutritious, and eating it does not have the environmental impact of eating farmed salmon, nor the health risks associated with consuming the residue of carcinogens that recent studies found can accumulate in the fat of farmed salmon at very unhealthy levels.
Albacore tuna is in pretty good standing and contains slightly lower omega fatty acids than wild salmon or sardines, so it too is a good choice.
Wild King (Chinook) Salmon top all wild species for [good] fat and omega-3 content, and is very rich in vitamin D.
Skate, rockfish, Chilean sea bass, and orange roughy are threatened, because they do not spawn until they are old, 30 years in the case of orange roughy, and unless they are managed well, they will be overfished to depletion.
Species that are still abundant and well-managed include striped bass, wild Alaskan salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, and Alaskan halibut.
As for other fish, be aware that larger, more carnivorous fish are more likely to contain dangerous levels of toxins. You may want to avoid swordfish, marlin, shark, and bluefish for that reason.
Grouper, black sea bass, rockfish, and most snapper are endangered from overfishing.
Cod, pollock, flounder, halibut, sole, and plaice are still relatively abundant in the Pacific but seriously depleted in the Atlantic.
This is a bit of a horror story, but I need to tell you, since 2010 the FDA has been considering approval of a genetically modified (GM) salmon (and other popularly eaten fish) for human consumption that grows at twice the rate of normal salmon – read more about that in a previous post on FDA says GM Salmon, Trout & Tilapia are Safe for Human Consumption.
Try to keep these distinctions in mind if you want to continue enjoying fish!
Some of our Favorite Fish Recipes