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Gone Fishing

Looking for something lighter to eat this fall? Go fishing.For many reasons fish is a great choice for part of the two to three meat servings we need each day. Fish is high in many nutrients, includin...

Looking for something lighter to eat this fall? Go fishing.

For many reasons fish is a great choice for part of the two to three meat servings we need each day. Fish is high in many nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids.

Research shows that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids improve the levels of good cholesterol in your blood. It’s quite strange that Inuit people eat a high fat/high cholesterol diet and yet don’t suffer from heart disease – completely opposite of what we’d expect. Why? They eat a lot of fish and other marine animals rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

By eating some fish each week, you can lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. By limiting your fat intake and eating fish regularly, you can achieve a perfect balance of fats in your blood. As well, fish oils prevent blood clots and may also lower blood pressure – great if you’ve got high blood pressure or atherosclerosis. Eating fish also helps reduce the inflammation and swelling of arthritis. Make sure your kids eat fish – the oils are necessary for normal growth and development.

Eating more fish improves your health … eating less does the opposite. Look at the plight of the Japanese, for example. In the past their traditional diet included a lot of fish and rice – they had few problems with their health. But today, with a more westernized diet including more red meats and less fish, they are suffering the consequences: Higher rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

No one has decided just how much of these fatty acids are needed in a day, but most agree that people need more omega-3 and less omega-6.

Omega-3 is found in fats and oils (canola, soybean, walnut wheat germ, margarine and shortening made from canola and soybean oil); nuts and seeds (butternuts, walnuts, soybean kernels) shellfish and fish (mackerel, salmon, bluefish, mullet, sablefish, menhaden, anchovy, herring, lake trout, sardines and tuna).

Omega-6 is found in leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts, grains, vegetable oils (corn, safflower, soybean, cottonseed, sesame, sunflower) and in meat.

To obtain this balance people need to start setting their hooks on more fish and less red meat. Eating fish instead of meat for two or three meals a week is great for your heart – especially when you add a bit of physical activity. Just one meal of fish every week may be enough to make a difference.

It doesn’t even have to be a type of fish that is high in omega-3 fatty acids. One study recently found that farm-raised catfish (which is relatively low in omega-3 fatty acids) improves the fat content of your blood the same as wild Alaskan salmon (which is at the other end of the omega-3 spectrum).

Fish and seafood are great for your health, but they come along with a qualifier or two. You should cook them thoroughly. If undercooked or raw, they can host the agents that cause diseases and conditions including hepatitis, parasites and viral intestinal disorders.

As well, they can give you worms. (I’d rather catch a fish with a worm, than a worm with a fish – wouldn’t you?)

By freezing the fish, you can kill the mature, parasitic worms, but only by cooking can you kill their eggs and other micro-organisms that can cause illness. For safety’s sake, cook your seafood well.

Oysters are another great source of these essential fatty acids. But, the chemicals in raw oysters are dangerous for people with liver disease, alcoholics, and those with suppressed immune systems.

At least 10 species of bacteria found in oysters can cause serious illness leading to death. Many carry the hepatitis A virus. You can use hot sauces to kill bacteria, but only thorough cooking will kill the viruses.

You may decide to take a supplement to get enough of the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Watch how much you take. Too much fish oil can make you bleed longer, so your cuts won’t heal as quickly. Be even more cautious if you’re diabetic. Too much will worsen your diabetes and can also impair your immune system.

Since fish oil supplements are usually made from fish skins and livers (the fish’s blood filter), they are often full of environmental poisons. Fish oils are naturally full of Vitamins A and D, since these are stored in your fat cells, too much can cause health problems. As well as fatty acids, fish provides protein, zinc and the B vitamins – niacin and thiamin.

Other things to remember include keeping your calorie count low by opting for roasted, broiled, poached, or braised fish rather that fried.

When you’re buying canned fish, select fish packed in water. If you choose the oil-packed type – rinse it in hot water and you’ll get rid of a lot of the fat.

If you like salty or smoked fish, such as anchovies, caviar, salted and dried cod, herring, sardines, and smoked salmon, remember they are full of salt. So don’t overdo it.

So start eating more fish and when people ask you why you look so great just tell them you’ve taken up a new hobby: Fishing!

– Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at

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