FISH IS AN IMPORTANT PART OF A healthy diet. Nutritionists consider the protein in fish to be very high quality, which is essential for good health. Fish are low is saturated fats and contain many beneficial nutrients, such as Vitamins A and D. Fillets of marine species also include valuable minerals, such as phosphorous, magnesium, and iodine.
It turns out that fish are important for the young and also the young at heart. Nutritionists note that fish are important in the development of healthy young bodies, so in addition to getting rods and reels in their hand at an early age, it is important to introduce children to fish at the dinner table.
Certain types of oily fish, such as tuna, mackerel, sardines, and salmon contain beneficial fats, known as Omega-3 fatty acids. Our bodies need these types of fatty acids to function properly and since our bodies dont produce these acids, we need to include them in our diet. Unlike the saturated fat found in beef, Omega-3s are good fats which lower triglycerides - sometimes significantly - in our bloodstream, thereby reducing the risk of coronary heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish, preferably those high in Omega3s, at least twice a week. In addition to good heart health, Omega-3 acids are important to brain functions and scientists are putting an increasing focus on the link between diets rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and cognitive health.
Fish appear to be a wonder food but there are a few potential health risks associated with its consumption. Fish, as well as mollusks and crustaceans, can accumulate toxic chemicals in their flesh by eating other tainted organisms or through direct exposure to contaminants. This process is known as bioaccumulation. Perhaps the most publicized example of bioaccumulation is the mercury found in apex ocean predators, such as tuna and sharks.
While mercury gets the lions share of the attention when it comes to bioaccumulation in our seafood, it is important to note that pesticides, dioxins, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are long lived chemical compounds that are problematic as well. Everything we dump into our water ultimately makes its way into our food sources.
While the vast majority of seafood we catch, or buy at the store, is perfectly safe to eat, there can be risks, particularly if the contaminants have reached specific levels. Fortunately for seafood fans, the Seafood and Aquatic Group, Texas Department of State Health Services (TDHS) studies these issues and informs the public on safety issues relating to the consumption of seafood through consumption advisories.
TDHS insightful Guide to Eating Texas Fish and Crabs states: "Consumption advisories are not intended to discourage people from eating fish or crab; they are intended to help people make informed decisions on whether they or their families should eat fish or crabs from specific water bodies. Fish and crab consumption advisories recommend consumption guidelines for people based on potential health risks. People should also use these guidelines to choose fish and crab species and water bodies that contain lower levels of contaminations."
Striped bass are 30 mg higher in cholesterol than flounder, per 3-oz. serving (see table below). Composite Graphic: TF&G
The guide gives a number of good suggestions regarding the consumption of fish from state waters. They include eating smaller, younger fish as they will generally contain lower levels of contaminants than older, larger fish.
Cleaning your catch a specific way can also minimize the potential ingestion of contaminants. The department suggests removing skin, dark muscle tissue and fat from fish. Fat tends to accumulate around the belly and along the back in many fish. Pesticides, dioxins, and PCBs tend to accumulate in fatty areas and trimming fatty tissue during cleaning minimizes the risk of exposure.
TDHS also suggested that you avoid eating the internal organs of your catch. While I first chuckled at the thought of a big pile of fried speckled trout spleens, I realized that serious cooks use leftover fish carcasses to make stock, which is a building block for many other dishes. If you want to make stock, eviscerate the carcasses and wash them well before dropping them into the stock pot.
Mercury bioaccumulation is not just a concern for fans of marine fishes; mercury accumulates in freshwater species as well. According to TDHSs guide, the freshwater species more like to build up mercury include; bass (largemouth, white, and striped), freshwater drum, gar, walleye, flathead catfish, and bowfin. Freshwater species less likely to build up mercury in their flesh include; channel catfish, sunfish, and crappie.
Likewise, saltwater species more inclined to mercury buildup include; sharks, tunas, ling, and kingfish (king mackerel). Saltwater fish less likely to build up mercury include; redfish, black drum, founder, and speckled trout.
Even cooking your catch can impact its healthfulness. The department recommends baking or grilling your catch. With the exception of mercury, which accumulates in the muscle tissue, other contaminants accumulate in fatty areas. The juices from a cooking piece of fish are basically liquefied fat; bake or grill the fish and the juices run off the fish while it cooks. Deep frying, my all time favorite, tends to seal in contaminants, under delectable, crispy coating, not allowing the bad stuff to be purged.
Which Texas fish is the healthiest? Well, its complicated. You must weigh calories, protein, total fat versus saturated fat content, and plat that against the cholesterol content of the fish. If you want to see how your favorite species stacks up other species, as well as crab, shrimp, and oysters, check out the nutrition chart from the United States Department of Agriculture. (See below)
Fish is an essential part of a healthy diet but many people dont get enough. Many folks dont have access to fresh fish and simply cant afford to buy fish at the store. If you have some extras fillets, share them with a friend or loved one.