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Gone fishing

What can you do this summer to boost your health? Go fishing in your grocery store. 


What can you do this summer to boost your health? Go fishing in your grocery store. 

Fish, a low-fat, high-quality protein, is filled with vitamins such as A, D and B2 (riboflavin), is rich in calcium and phosphorus and is also a great source of iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium, potassium, selenium, and antioxidants.

Iodine helps the thyroid gland control growth and metabolism. Selenium helps make enzymes to protect cell walls from cancer-causing free radicals, and helps prevent DNA damage from radiation and some chemicals. Vitamin A builds healthy skin and eyes, and Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium for stronger teeth and bones.

Omega-3 fatty acids are another key nutritional element in fish. The best concentrations are found in fatty fish, but many types of seafood also contain small amounts. Most freshwater fish contain lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids than fatty saltwater fish; however, some varieties of freshwater trout are reasonable sources. 

The American Heart Association, recognizing the value of omega-3 in fish, recommends an intake of one to two servings of fatty fish, such as salmon, herring and to a lesser extent tuna, each week for most adult men. Following these American Heart Association’s guidelines can help maintain your good health, reducing your risk for a variety of conditions.

For example, getting the omega-3 fatty acids in fish on a weekly basis can reduce your risk of many types of cancers by 30-50%, in particular: cancers of the oral cavity, esophagus, prostate, colon, breast, and ovary.

It can also improve your cardiovascular system and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke by reducing blood clots and inflammation. Eating fish also improves blood vessel elasticity, lowers blood pressure, lowers blood fats and boosts your ‘good’ cholesterol.

By reducing inflammation, regular fish consumption may also relieve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and auto-immune diseases. As a good, low-calorie source of protein, fish helps diabetics maintain a more stable blood sugar level.

In addition, fish feeds your brain and eyes. People who regularly eat fish have a lower incidence of depression, which is often a result of low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the brain. In studies of the elderly, people who eat fish or seafood at least once a week appear to have a lower risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Omega-3 fatty acids protect your retina, the light-sensitive tissue lining the inner surface of the eye.

In spite of all these health benefits of eating fish, there is one ‘catch’: fish meat absorbs and stores whatever contaminants are present in the water in which they live. So, fish from particularly polluted water should be avoided. These types of fish often contain high levels of methyl mercury and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), which are particularly dangerous when ingested: swordfish, king mackerel, marlin, shark, and tilefish.

Although, farmed fish are usually free of mercury, be aware that they may contain low PCB levels if they were raised in plastic tanks.

To reduce your risk of ingesting contaminants through fish, limit your intake of the following types to just once a week: black sea bass, Chilean sea bass, croaker, halibut, lobster, mahi mahi, monkfish, rockfish, red snapper, sablefish, black cod, tuna, albacore, and Chinook salmon.  Remember, the smaller the fish, the safer it is.

The following fish are generally very low in contaminants and can be eaten up to three times a week: anchovies, butterfish, catfish, clams, cod crab (Blue, King, Snow), imitation crab, crayfish flounder, sole, herring, mackerel, oysters, Pollock, sardines, scallops, shrimp, prawns, squid, calamari, tilapia, trout, and these types of salmon: chum, Coho, pink and sockeye.

Even without contamination, some fish should be eaten less frequently, such as tilapia and catfish, because they naturally contain higher levels of unhealthy fatty acids. Certainly, any fish can be unhealthy when not prepared in a health-conscious way. 

So, when cooking fish, it is best to avoid using oil; baked, grilled, poached or steamed fish is best.  To eliminate unhealthy natural fat, remove the fish skin and visible fat before cooking. Then, let the fish’s fat drip off while cooking and don’t collect it for a gravy or sauce. Choose your serving from the fillet and discard the other, fattier parts.

Regarding portion sizes, one serving should be about the size and thickness of your hand. Each person should eat about one ounce of fish for every 20 lbs he/she weighs. So, a 160-lb adult should eat an eight-ounce serving.

Recognizing that omega-3 fatty acids are so important to your health, you may want to consider adding these other good food sources to your diet: flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, canola oil, soybeans and soybean oil.

This summer, get hooked on eating right, even if there’s something fishy about it!


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