Fresh Catch of the Day?
The romance associated with Moby Dick and a fisherman’s life, a life on the sea filled with excitement and peril, has, for the most part, been replaced with fish farms.
As wild fisheries are overexploited, fish farmers have stepped up to the plate to help meet the worldwide demand for finned culinary staples. The reality is there just aren’t enough fish in the sea to keep up with demand, so today about half the seafood consumed around the world comes from fish farms.
Is Something Fishy About Fish Farms?
Farmed seafood can be inferior to wild fish in taste, and in many cases the nutritional value of the fish is also compromised. For example, nature did not intend salmon to be crammed into pens and fed soy, poultry litter, and hydrolyzed chicken feathers. As a result of a deviant diet, farmed salmon is lower in vitamin D, lower in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, higher in proinflammatory omega-6 fats (specifically, farmed salmon is particularly rich in proinflammatory arachidonic acid, which we discuss in Chapter 5 of our Clean Cuisine book), higher in saturated fat, and higher in overall contaminants (such as PCBs, carcinogens, and pesticides like dioxin and DDT).
We also find it disturbing that farmed salmon would be gray in color if it weren’t for pink chemical dye. So, knowing what we know about fish farms we feel it is absolutely worth the extra price to pay for wild salmon. If you want a budget-friendly option go for sockeye (red) salmon that is often sold in cans; sockeye salmon is the variety that cannot be farmed. Sockeye salmon is not only inexpensive but it’s delicious in casseroles and makes a fabulous salmon burger while remaining high in omega-3 fats.
Another unsettling fishy fact is that only 5 percent of the farmed seafood eaten in the United States comes from domestic fish farms, and only 2 percent of the imported fish consumed in the United States is inspected in this country. Not only does importing seafood leave a big carbon footprint, but overseas fish farming is not exactly “clean.” Most of the seafood we import is sourced from locations where health, safety, and environmental standards for raising and catching fish are weak or nonexistent. Many fish farmers pack their ponds too tight, leading to disease and pollution from fish waste. And just like cattle are given antibiotics and other drugs, fish in farms are given the same things. Then there’s the concern about what the fish are eating. Just like with cows, if fish don’t eat the foods they would naturally consume in the wild, then the fish are not going to be healthy; this suboptimal health of the fish will directly impact the health of the fish eater, you. Many fish farms are no doubt a muddled mess of murky water.
When we visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium on our 2011 California family road trip, we learned that their Seafood Watch program mostly discourages consumers from choosing farmed fish, both for health reasons and because of concerns over the environmental impact of fish farming. However, we haven’t totally ruled out eating farmed fish because when it is done properly it can be safe.
Where to Buy the Healthiest Fish
We buy our fish from Whole Foods Market and from a local fish market because we know they set the bar high for quality standards. If you buy farmed fish, you want to buy it from a reputable place. Ask the fishmonger what the fish eats and where it swims.
We also order a good deal of seafood, including canned seafood and smoked salmon, from Vital Choice, a trusted source for fast home delivery of the world’s finest wild seafood and organic fare, harvested from healthy, well-managed wild fisheries and farms.
Some of our favorite Vital Choice seafood products include:
Is Smoked Salmon Healthy?
In the past we have received questions asking “Is smoked salmon healthy?” This is a good question because if you are familiar with how delicate omega-3 fats are you might think that high-heat smoking would potentially destroy the omega-3 fats, or worse, cause them to oxidize, which would promote free radical damage in your body. But this is not the case…
Wild “Hot-Smoked” Salmon is Actually the Healthiest Choice! Click HERE to read more.
The Big (Fish) Picture
The big picture of course is that fish (and fish oil supplements) are the most readily available, most ample source of the long-chain omega-3 EPA and DHA fats we all desperately need. The omega-3 fats are a nutrient most people in first world nations are deficient in. And the research showing fish eaters are healthier than non-fish eaters is solid. The American Heart Association recommends we eat fatty fish such as salmon and trout at least twice a week. These recommendations are made because a number of studies published in some of the very best medical journals have repeatedly proven that eating fish can prevent, reverse, and even cure cardiovascular conditions including atherosclerosis, cardiac arrhythmias, stroke peripheral vascular disease, high blood pressure, and even sudden cardiac death. (1)
No other dietary therapy is more effective at lowering triglycerides than a diet containing EPA- and DHA-rich seafood, which has been shown to reduce triglycerides by up to 65 percent. Of course you can’t eat fish sticks fried in recycled oil and expect to improve your health, but research has shown that when fish is prepared healthfully there is a 50 percent decrease in death due to heart disease among persons who eat fish three or more times per week. (2) People who consume fish on a regular basis have also been reported to have low risks of cancers of the pancreas, colon, thyroid, and prostate. It’s also interesting to note that three populations who consume fish at least three times per week, the Okinawans, Japanese, and Inuit, have very low incidence of breast cancer. Fish consumption is even associated with enhanced weight loss when dieting.(3) Furthermore, recent studies suggest eating fish will make you feel happier too; studies on omega-3 fat consumption have linked low fish intake to an increased incidence of psychological problems, including depression, bipolar disorder, postpartum blues, and suicidal tendencies.(4)
What about the Mercury in Seafood?
We’ve addressed this issue in our previous books but will briefly touch on it here. While it is true people who eat fish have higher levels of mercury than people who do not eat fish, multiple studies performed on real people (not animals) in real life have proven beyond a doubt that fish eaters live longer and suffer fewer heart attacks than people who do not eat fish. (5)
Furthermore, the largest scientific study performed to date has specifically shown there to be no harmful relationship between either prenatal or postnatal mercury exposure and developmental outcomes in either 5-year-olds or 9-year-olds. In these studies, childbearing women ate an average of twelve servings of fish weekly, far more than what we recommend per week and far more than most people would ever choose to eat. (6)
15 Best Tips for Choosing the Healthiest Fish
Taking all this into consideration and weighing the pluses with the minuses, we are left with the question of what fish to eat. It’s easy to feel lost in a sea of confusion when trying to figure out the cleanest fish to buy, but there are some simple guidelines you can follow to choose the best fish. You should also know that the toxin content of many fish depends on size: Bigger fish have more toxins, so it’s better to eat smaller fish. Sardines and anchovies are particularly good choices because these small fish are not only low in toxins but also super rich in omega-3 fat, which is the main reason you want to eat fish in the first place.
Here are the 15 best tips for choosing the healthiest fish:
1. Go for small fish.
2. Choose local or domestic over imported.
3. Choose wild fish when possible.
4. Choose wild Alaskan salmon or sockeye salmon over farmed.
5. If you do choose farmed fish find out how it is farmed and find out where the fish were raised and what they ate.
6. If you are lucky enough to live near the coast, go native and buy locally caught wild fish.
7. Look for the blue Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) ecolabel. To get the highest quality fish of any variety, you want to look for sustainable fish that have met the independent environmental standards of the MSC, the world’s leading certification and ecolabeling program for sustainable seafood.
8. Avoid fish labeled “fresh from frozen”, which means the fish has been previously frozen and then thawed and displayed as if it were fresh. “Fresh from frozen” fish may look fresh and they are almost always cheaper, but you will absolutely get what you pay for because they never taste fresh. Sometimes these fish sit for days before selling. Not a fresh catch.
9. For the best tasting fish, look for fresh fish and buy it from a reputable source. Frozen fish can also be a good option. (Note: frozen fish is not the same as fish that is labeled “fresh from frozen.”) Keep in mind, because the journey from sea to market may take a week or longer, frozen fish can actually end up tasting fresher than fresh fish. This is because thanks to modern freezing techniques, many fish are now frozen on the boat, just minutes after being caught, with flash-freezing units that maintain a temperature far below the typical home freezer. (But see our fresh from frozen warning in the previous bulleted item).
10. Avoid fish that has been given antibiotics and added growth hormones.
11. Avoid fish that has been given poultry or mammalian by-products in its feed.
12. Avoid fish containing preservatives such as sodium bisulfite, sodium tripolyphosphate (STP), and sodium metabisulfite. Seems logical enough.
13. Prepare your fish healthfully! If you drown your fish in béarnaise sauce or fry it in vegetable oil, you might as well eat a doughnut.
14. Get to know your fishmonger! Ask questions. Where do the fish swim? What does the fish eat?
15. Go for quality over quantity. You don’t need to eat massive amounts of fish to reap their omega-3 benefits, so you can afford to spend more for better quality.
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A Word About Oysters, Mussels & Scallops…
Oysters, mussels and scallops may be the filters of the sea, but these bottom-dwelling bivalves are some of the most sustainable seafood choices on the market. They are low on the food chain and very low in mercury.
- von Schacky, P. Angerer, W. Kothny, et al., The Effect of Dietary Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Coronary Atherosclerosis. A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial,” Annals of Internal Medicine 130, no. 7 (1999): 544–62. K. He, E. B. Rimm, A. Merchant, et al., “Fish Consumption and Risk of Stroke in Men,” Journal of the American Medical Association 288, no. 24 (2002): 3130–36. J. M. Geleijinse, E. J. Giltay, D. E. Grobbee, et al., “Blood Pressure Response to Fish Oil Supplementation: Metagregression Analysis of Randomized Trials,” Journal of Hypertension 20, no. 8 (2002): 1491–99. C. M. Albert, H. Campos, M. J. Stampfer, et al., “Blood Levels of Long-Chain n-3 Fatty Acids and Risk of Sudden Death,” New England Journal of Medicine 346, no. 15 (2002): 1113–18.
- D. Mozaffarian, R. N. Lemaitre, L. H. Kuller, et al. “Cardiac Benefits of Fish Consumption May Depend on the Type of Fish Meal Consumed: The Cardiovascular Health Study,” Circulation 107, no. 10 (2003): 1372–77.
- A. Ramel, M. T. Jonsdottir, and I. Thorsdottir, “Consumption of Cod and Weight Loss in Young Overweight and Obese Adults on an Energy Reduced Diet for 8-Weeks,” Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Disease 19, no. 1 (2009): 690–96.
- P. Y. Lin and K. P. Su, “A Meta-analytic Review of Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Trials of Antidepressant Efficacy of Omega-3 Fatty Acids,” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 68, no. 7 (2007): 1056-61.
- J. Zhang, S. Sasaki, K. Amano, and H. Kesteloot, “Fish Consumption and Mortality from all Causes, Ischemic Heart Disease and Stroke: An Ecological Study,” Preventative Medicine 28, no. 5 (1999): 520–29.
- P. W. Davidson, G. J. Myers, C. Cox, et al., “Effects of Prenatal and Postnatal Methylmercury Exposure from Fish Consumption on Neurodevelopment: Outcomes at 66 Months of Age in the Seychelles Child Development Study,” Journal of the American Medical Association 280, no. 8 (1998): 701–07. G. J. Myers, P. W. Davidson, C. Cox, et al., “Prenatal Methylmercury Exposure from Ocean Fish Consumption in the Seychelles Child Development Study,” Lancet 361, no. 9370 (2003): 1686–92.