A Sea of Change

November 6, 2018 in Health, Nutrition by Joyce Bunderson

Over eighteen years ago, when I moved to the mountain west, it somewhat surprised me that so many friends and acquaintances told me that they never ate fish. Just in the past few years, I’ve noticed that fish is more frequently creeping into the menus of my acquaintances. Certainly, this observed trend is not scientific in any stretch of the imagination, but I think it’s probably a fact, because I find more and more readily available fish choices in more kinds of stores, and not just frozen. I’ve even had a couple of friends ask what type of fish I buy; where I buy it and how to prepare it. This observation has prompted me to write about fish consumption. Possibly some of my observations are a result of the people reading or hearing about the over 30,000 studies reporting on the health benefits of consuming seafood.

Maybe people are learning that the body is not very efficient at converting the shorter-chain omega-3s (like Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA) found in flax seeds, hemp and chia seeds) to the longer-chain essential fatty acids like Eicosapentanoic Acid (EPA) found in fish, fish oil and edible algae; and Docosahexaeonic Acid (DHA). I know, I know, too much scientific jargon. The point is that the omega-3s advertised on flax seeds, hemp and chia seeds or products made with them are not efficiently converted to the very effective EPAs and DHAs that are so widely linked to health benefits.

America’s Favorite Seafood
America’s favorite seafoods [https://www.seafoodsource.com/news/supply-trade/nfi-new-top-10-list-of-americas-favorite-seafood-species-points-to-upward-consumption-trend] and most consumed in order include: Shrimp, Salmon, Canned Tuna, Tilapia, Alaska Pollock, Pangasius*, Cod, Crab, Catfish, and Clams. *Seriously, even if you’re a big fish eater like me, have you heard of pangasius? [https://www.seafoodhealthfacts.org/description-top-commercial-seafood-items/pangasius] In North America and Australia they are frequently labeled as basa fish, swai, or bocourti. Because of the flavor, basa seems to be the preferred type of pangasius. What I am familiar with is catfish, and pangasius is a species of catfish; a species native to Indochina.

Concerns regarding mercury
Let start right off with the issue of mercury; as so many have been discouraged from consuming seafood by this issue. It’s unfortunate that concerns regarding mercury are keeping pregnant women and children from consuming fish; especially in light of the involvement of the omega-3s in brain development. Of the top consumed seafood species in the US (see preceding paragraph), all are safe and healthy to eat during pregnancy and childhood; 90% of seafood in the US is low in mercury. The FDA/EPA have listed those species and how much a pregnant woman could eat before approaching risk: Shrimp (111.5 pounds—that sounds Really Safe, and how good those little shrimps are!); Salmon (53 pounds); Canned tuna (Shipjack – light, 10 pounds); Canned tuna (Albacore – white, 3.5 pounds—you could get closer to problems here, but who could eat even 3.5 lb?); Tilapia (94 pounds); Farmed Catfish, Pangasius, Swai, Basa (72 pounds); Alaska Pollock (33 pounds); Cod (14 pounds); Crab (19 pounds); Clams (53 pounds). Surely, you do not need to deny yourself or your child seafood.

If you’re eating fish for the omega-3s then refer to this beautiful chart at Seafood Nutrition.org [https://www.seafoodnutrition.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Omega-3-Chart.pdf]. Don’t skip the guidelines on the left-hand column. Even the fish in the far right column containing some of America’s favorites (cod; shrimp, tilapia) give some omega-3s. An interesting fact regarding omega-3s is that small fish that eat algae and reproduce quickly are a less expensive way to get omega-3s than the large varieties. The large varieties that are high in omega-3s eat the little fish to become themselves high in omega-3s.

If you’re worried about sustainability (And I do hope you are.) and issues of being on the green list, you may be interested in a list published by seafoodwatch.org. The following fish are on the Super Green List:
• Alaska salmon (includes canned)
• Pacific Sardines
• Atlantic (aka Boston) mackerel
• Farmed trout
• Sablefish/Black Cod
• West Coast albacore tuna (usually fresh/frozen)
I appreciate that canned salmon is at the top of the list. For years I forgot about canned salmon. Then one day, a childhood comfort food memory popped into my mind – salmon patties. Canned salmon addresses a not so frequently discussed benefit of eating fish – bone health (avoidance of osteoporosis) provided by canned bones. The frosting on the cake is that canned salmon is budget friendly. I always double check to buy the varieties that are listed as bone in. The bones (and of course, all the nutrients in the bones) dissolve into your recipe. The main way I use canned salmon is by making salmon patties. Absolutely, love them! Using canned salmon is definitely a win-win; we get both the omega-3s and the bones – and don’t forget it’s on the Super Green List for sustainability.

When purchasing fish and sometimes being stunned by the price per pound of some varieties, remember that there is little shrinkage and virtually no waste of a filet. So when considering how much fish costs for a serving, you may be pleasantly surprised.

If you’re a newcomer to fish consumption, keep trying different varieties and recipes. Don’t let the price stop you; canned tuna and salmon are both budget-friendly. If you’re a long time fish eater, my advice is to keep the habit. Either way, the sea is changing and we need to be part of protecting it while it provides its bounty for us.