Guest author: Michael Nornhold, Bowling Green Sstate University Dietetic Intern with Penn State Extension
While it is almost impossible to predict the weather, we can expect some hot days, some wet ones and a large amount of humidity here in Pennsylvania. In the same way, while it is almost impossible to predict our health as we age, we can expect fish and seafood to help us along the way.
Some of the benefit s of fish come from the omega-3 oils Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) found in fish like salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, and sardines. These fish also have a low risk of mercury contamination, which has become a concern recently. Since fish are also lower in saturated fat than other meats, trading fish for meat lowers your risk for heart disease. Chunk light tuna in water is also a good choice due to its mild flavor, low price and low mercury levels.
Those who eat fish and seafood more often have lower risk for heart disease, stroke, and possibly dementia. Thirty percent of deaths in Pennsylvania are caused by heart disease, the leading cause of death in this state. The amount of fish needed to reduce your risk of a heart attack by a third is only one to two meals per week. A good way to start eating more fish is to make Tuna Tuesdays or Fish Fridays a part of each week.
A great way to prepare fish is to steam in foil with lemon slices. Another is to bake in a small dish at 350°F with a little water and lemon. Add black pepper and seasonings such as basil, parsley, dill, paprika or just about any other seasoning that you would like to try. The fish is ready when it begins to flake easily with a fork and reaches an internal temperature of 145°F. This will be about 15-30 minutes depending on the amount and thickness of the fish. Choosing deep fried fish or fish sandwiches does not offer the same benefits as other types of fish. Fish and seafood also make a great topping for salads. Keep canned tuna and salmon on hand so if you don’t have time to go to the store you can still make a quick Tuna Tuesday or Fish Friday meal. Canned tuna is a quick and easy alternative to deli meats, which are often higher in salt.
When cooking for children it is important to create the best situation for your children to try new foods. It may help to light a scented candle when cooking fish at home to cover the smell that some children find unpleasant. It will be important to let your children see you enjoying the new food and remember that it may take 8-9 tries before a child accepts a new food. It will help to serve a familiar side with the fish and encourage your child to at least taste the new food, but don’t offer bribes.
The oils DHA and EPA found in fish can be purchased as pills. But the evidence is not as strong for these pills to protect your heart. Also, side effects include the dreaded fish burps. For these reasons eating actual fish is better. If you choose to use pills, look for capsules that contain at least 500 mg EPA/DHA and have the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) seal. The USP seal lets you know the product is tested for strength and safety. As always, check with your physician before taking any pill to make sure it will not interfere with any of your medications.
There are also other sources of omega-3 fatty acids related to DHA and EPA. These foods include flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, canola oil, soybeans and soybean oil. However, similar to pills, the evidence for heart-healthy benefits from eating these foods isn’t as strong as it is from eating fish. For this reason fish should still be eaten one to two times per week.
Fish that have a higher risk of mercury include shark, tilefish, swordfish, and king mackerel. These fish should not be eaten often. When catching fish locally it is important to get the fish from stream to table safely. The first step is to find a safe creek. To find local recommendations for your favorite Pennsylvania fishing hole, go to www.fishandboat.com/fishes and select the link at the bottom of the page called ‘consumption advisories.’ After catching and cleaning fish it is important to keep out fish of sunlight and cool to 35-40°F quickly to prevent bacterial growth. Fresh fish should be used within two days. If you choose to freeze your fish, it should be used within 6 months. It is recommended that you only eat one meal per week of locally caught fish. Some areas and species are restricted further. Also check out www.extension.psu.edu/food-safety for more fish safety and handling information.