Fish – Brain Food?

January 22, 2010 in Blog Recipes, Diabetic Menu Item, Health Claims, Mediterranean, Nutrition, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

Fishy, Fishy, In a Brook
Fishy, fishy, in a brook
Daddy caught him with a hook
Mommy fried him in a pan
And baby ate him like a man.

When I was growing up, fish was served on Wednesday and Friday – that’s just the way it was. I didn’t know that many families didn’t eat fish. The only thing I remember being said was that fish is brain food. Now days, of course we hear lots about the omega 3’s in fish and how the omega 3’s are related to heart health. But it does make sense that fish is good for the brain, since the brain cells need the long –chain omega-3 fatty acids. There has even been research that suggests that fish consumption might protect people from depression.

It seems as though there is little doubt that fish has great benefits for our health. But a lot of confusion exists about whether we are damaging the environment or if toxins that the fish might have eaten are contaminating us. Clearly, overfishing has been shown to damage the ocean environment, but conservation methods have resulted in the rebound of many fish and sea mammal populations. Let us all actively support conservation of our seafood populations and the ethical treatment of these creatures that so effectively nourish we humans who have so long existed high up on the food chain.

How do we balance the risk of contamination in fish? Salmon and other fatty fish, rich in omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death and improved cholesterol levels. The American Heart Association has suggested that we should eat fish twice a week, especially the fatty fish, like salmon, tuna, and sardines.  Problem is, studies done in 2003 showed that farmed salmon had high levels of PCBs (toxic man-made chemicals). Because of this information, some people have stopped eating salmon. But Eric Rimm at the Harvard School of Public Health has said that the PCB levels in farmed salmon were not a cause of concern compared with the benefits.  He said, “It’s clear that if there is any risk, the benefit is still in the range of 300 to 1,000 times greater from the fact that you’re getting the omega-3s.” We should remember that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.

The issue of PCBs and other toxic substances continues to be debated, and it is prudent to take precautions. Therefore I would suggest that you try to eat mostly wild fish. Also, trimming the skin and fat as much as possible and grilling and boiling to reduce fat, is a technique to reduce the amount of toxins.

Another technique is to consider eating the smaller fish, like sardines, anchovies and mackerel that still have the omega-3s, but they have shorter lives and don’t have as much time to pick up as much toxic substances.

Lastly, a concern is that some farmed fish are fed antibiotics.  If the fish pens foster bacteria, fish farming could potentially lead to antibiotic resistance, bacteria that do not respond easily to the drugs.

Another technique is to eat a variety of fish, which can minimize your risk of a variety of contamination problems from any one fish group. Let’s face it, we face risk with most foods in this modern agricultural world that we live in.

Note: Be careful with fish oil supplements; I don’t recommend taking them. There is an increased risk of stroke with high doses, especially those with uncontrolled hypertension and those taking anticoagulants like Coumadin.

These precautions are worth taking,, but Eric Rimm’s advice shows the best understanding of the risks vs. the benefits.  With ordinary precautions, the benefits of eating prudently selected fish FAR outweigh the risks.

This guy was never in our brook and grandpa didn't catch him with a hook - but I do hope to fry him in a pan.

This guy was never in our brook and grandpa didn't catch him with a hook - but I do hope to fry him in a pan.

If you have leftover salmon after having fried 'em in a pan or other preparation, you can make a lovely salad with the leftovers.

Salmon Salad

Top with bottled Raspberry Vinigrette or mix:

1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 clove of minced garlic

1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper, if desired


Top 5 cups torn romaine lettuce with:

1 cup sliced tomatoes

1/4 cup of thinly sliced red onion or green onions

1 cup sliced cucumbers

leftover salmon broken into bite-size pieces

Sprinkle with pine nuts, if desired.