For many of us, fish equals brain food but for cyclists fish also represents a significant source of lean protein and depending on the type of fish you choose, a great source of nature’s anti-inflammatory omega free fats. So how often do we really need to eat fish to get all the health benefits and what are the best types for us to maximise these benefits? And even more importantly what are the best types of fish for us to choose, from an environmental sustainability perspective so we can do our part to help preserve our fish for the generations ahead?
Different types of fish have different nutritional properties. On the whole, fish is a rich source of protein and is extremely low in fat – a fillet of white fish contains just three grams of fat. Deep sea, cold water fish including sardines, tuna, snapper and salmon have higher levels of fat than warm-water fish, and for this reason are rich sources of long chain omega 3 fat; the type of fat that is known to have a number of important health functions including reducing blood pressure, triglycerides and acting as a natural anti-inflammatory.
Shellfish too offers much nutritionally, with prawns, oysters and mussels all nutrient rich sources of zinc and iodine – two nutrients which can be at risk in a numbers of Australians’ diets. Aiming for a mix of shellfish, omega 3 rich fish and white fish each week will ensure that your body has access to all of the key nutrients found in a wide range of seafood. While it is a commonly held belief that shellfish increases blood cholesterol levels, it is actually saturated fat that increases blood cholesterol levels and all fish, including shellfish, is extremely low in saturated fat. At a minimum, ideally we should aim to eat fish two to three times each week and even up to four or five times each week if you are at high risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. Keep in mind that while white fish is low in calories and fat, oily fish is much higher in calories so be careful of your portion sizes, as 200g of Atlantic salmon can contain as much as 30g of fat per serve.
What About Mercury Levels?
While the benefits of eating more fish are well documented, in recent years there has also been some cause for concern over the potential toxicity of over consuming fish – particularly the mercury that may be found in it. Mercury is a mineral needed in very small amounts by the body. It accumulates in fish flesh after being absorbed via their gills and can be toxic; particularly during pregnancy. Mercury content has much to do with the age and size of the fish – larger fish have been exposed to mercury for longer periods of time and are more likely to contain higher levels of it. For this reason, it is recommended that large fish including shark, swordfish, barramundi, bluefin tuna, marlin and gemfish is consumed no more than once a week. For women who are pregnant, or considering pregnancy, it is recommended that they avoid these types of fish all together.
The Importance of Iodine
Iodine is another mineral required in small amounts by the body primarily to support thyroid (the body’s timekeeper) functioning. Iodine also has an important role in mental development and cognitive performance, particularly for children. The soil in Australia is relatively low in iodine, leaving seafood as one of our main dietary sources. Unfortunately it is estimated that up to 40% of Australian children have low iodine levels, meaning there is much opportunity for seafood to play a key role in supplying the body with all the essential iodine it needs to function. Consuming fish two to three times each week is not only a nutrient-rich addition to any diet, it also ticks the box on iodine requirements. Shellfish in particular is a great source of iodine, with just 100 grams providing a third of a child’s daily requirement.
The recommendations around fish consumption and pregnancy, such as avoiding mercury and uncooked fish while still ensuring you are getting enough iodine, may make things appear challenging but you can still enjoy certain types of fish and receive the nutritional benefits without putting your baby at risk. As tinned tuna and salmon are farmed regularly, the levels of mercury are generally safe and offer the benefits of iodine. So too do cooked prawns, so you can safely include these options in your diet two or three times each week.
While the nutritional benefits of regular fish consumption are well documented, in recent years there have been some concerns about the environmental impact of over-fishing our waterways. Australia is one of the leading countries in terms of developing sustainable fishing models but there is still work to be done. The best thing you can do when making decisions about the type of fish that you buy is to talk to your local fish monger about the origins of the fish you are purchasing and how it is caught. As a starting point, certain fish species including southern blue fin tuna; flake, red fish, eastern gemfish and swordfish are known to be under pressure and line fishing is also a preferred fishing method than seafloor trawling. Remember, the more questions you ask about where your food comes from, the more empowered you become in terms of making purchasing decisions that support environmental sustainability of our precious waterways.
Thai Fish & Mango Salad
2 small mangoes
2 Lebanese Cucumbers
1 red capsicum, roasted, peeled and cut into thin strips
2 tablespoons fresh mint sprigs
2 tablespoons fresh coriander sprigs
80ml lime juice
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons sweet chilli sauce
1 tablespoon grated light palm sugar or brown sugar
4 fillets (about 260g) firm white fish (snapper)
1 tablespoon peanut oil
2 tablespoon unsalted peanuts, roughly chopped
1) Peel the mangoes and slice flesh into thin strips. Run a vegetable peeler down the length of the cucumber to form long ribbons and put into a bowl with the capsicum, mint and coriander. Toss, cover and refrigerate while preparing the rest of the salad.
2) Put the lime juice, ginger, fish sauce, sweet chilli sauce and palm sugar in a jug and whisk to combine.
3) Preheat a char grill, lightly brush the fish fillets with the peanut oil and cook over a high heat for 3-4 minutes on each side or until cooked. Place some of the salad on each of the plates and top with fish fillets.
4) Drizzle the dressing over the fish and salad. Serve sprinkled with peanuts.
Healthy Fish & Chips
200 grams potato
Spray olive oil
2 cups corn flakes
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons low-fat natural yoghurt
600 grams boneless white fish
1/2 cup wholemeal flour
1) Preheat oven to 190C. Microwave potatoes until nearly cooked. Cool, then cut into wedges. Spray with olive oil and lay on baking tray.
2) Crush cornflakes. Combine egg and yoghurt in a bowl. Place fish in flour and coat. Dip coated fish in egg mixture and then coat with cornflakes.
3) Place on tray with chips and bake for 15 minutes or until crispy and brown.