Here Fishy, Fishy, Fishy…
For some time now, we’ve been hearing that we should eat more fish. As a Registered Dietitian, my clients often report that the reason they don’t eat fish is because they don’t know how to cook it. It really is easy to cook and not a good enough reason to avoid this great source of protein.
The American Heart Association recommends that we eat fish twice a week (about 8 ounces each week). Omega 3 fatty acids (EPA- Eicosapentaenoic acid, DHA- Docosahexaenoic acid and ALA-Alpha Linolenic) are essential fatty acids found in fish and vegetables oils. Essential fatty acids mean that they are necessary for human health and we can only obtain them from our food. These essential nutrients are crucial in brain function and in growth and development in children.
Benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids
It has been found that Omega 3 fatty acids raise HDL cholesterol levels (our good cholesterol) and lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels (the free fatty acid floating around our blood). These benefits help to promote a healthy heart by lowering our risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke. These essential fatty acids are thought to provide some other health benefits and are continually being researched. Omega 3 fatty acids may help to decrease cancer risk, improve depression symptoms, reduce symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis, possibly protect against Alzheimer’s disease along with other possible benefits.
EPA and DHA are found in salmon, mackerel, halibut, sardines, albacore tuna and herring. Plant sources of ALA are flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, canola oil, soybeans, pumpkin seeds and walnuts, ALA from the plant sources needs to be converted to EPA and DHA in the body.
You can also get Omega 3 fatty acids via supplements in the form of capsules. Make sure that you get your fish oil capsules from a reputable source. It is recommended to take a fish oil supplement with an equal ratio of EPA to DHA. The American Heart Association recommends 2-4 grams of EPA and DHA for the improvement of high triglycerides. You should not take more than 3 grams of Omega 3 fatty acids unless under the supervision of a doctor. Remember to talk to a healthcare professional (your Primary Care Physician or a Registered Dietitian) before taking Omega 3 fatty acids or any other supplements.
What about Mercury?
Contamination of fish with methyl mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, is a concern. It is recommended that pregnant women and children avoid eating fish with higher levels of mercury. For everyone else, the benefit of eating fish far outweighs the risk. For children and pregnant women, it is safe to eat up to 12 ounces of lower mercury-containing fish per week of fish (canned light tuna, salmon, Pollock and catfish). Larger fish are known to have higher levels of Mercury in them (swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish and shark).
As with any medication or supplement there are precautions, potential side effects and interactions with other medications. Omega 3 fatty acids should be avoided if taking blood thinning medications, some diabetic medications and clyclosporine. Although not hazardous to your health, you may notice that while taking your fish oils, you may have some gas, bloating, belching (fishy burps) and possible diarrhea.
How to Cook it
So, how do you cook fish? My, not so fancy, Registered Dietitian way to cook it- wrap it in foil and cook in on the grill (in the summer) or in the oven (in the winter). To clarify, there is no scientific reason behind using foil; it is simply because I hate washing dishes. Before I wrap the fish, I season it with oil (so it doesn’t stick); add fresh lemon slices or lemon juice, and parsley and dill. It doesn’t take long to cook- (about 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness- or until it is opaque and flaky.
Lichtenstein AH, Appel LJ, Brands M, et al. Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations Revision 2006: a Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee. Circulation. 2006;114:82-96.
University of Maryland. Omega-3 fatty acids. Available at http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega3-fatty-acids. Accessed 8/2/15.
National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. Omega-3 fatty acids and health. Available at https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcidsandHealth-HealthProfessional. Accessed 8/2/15.