Eating Fish Is A Healthy Alternative To Eating Meat
By Dr Harold Gunatillake
FRCS, FACS (US), FIACS (US), AM (SING), MBBS (Cey)
Health writer to websites, e-magazines, Sri Lankan Sunday papers, ex-patriot tabloids, and others
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”……Chinese Proverb
Buying fish or meat on a weekly basis in Sri Lanka is not within the reach of the wallet, among majority of the average people. A good slice of appetizing orange coloured salmon is about 1500 rupees a kilo, whilst a kilo of red meat would be much less.
The red meat can be cooked into a curry with lots of gravy, will feed a few mouths and lasts for a few meals, on the other hand a nice slice of fish would occupy the plate of a single, though yet, can be served for a whole family. What is your choice? In terms of health, there is no comparison; the fish eater is a real heart-full winner.
Studies have revealed that people who eat fish regularly showed to reduce their risk of stroke, depression and age associated mental decline and also ward off most of the chronic degenerative (inflammatory) diseases.
Cardio-vascular benefits are immeasurable, even when taking a fish oil capsule, daily. A Harvard study found that the risk of death from coronary heart disease was much lower (36%) among those who eat fatty fish regularly.
It is perceived, the hard working fishermen along the coasts of Sri Lanka live quite long years, though some of them are not aware of their ages, not very important to know in their lifestyle.
Fish is a high protein; low fat food provides a range of health benefits, whilst red meat is also high protein, but the high concentration of saturated fat in the skin, under the skin, and in the flesh of the meat, is a killer. Eating white fleshed fish in particular, is lower in fat than any other source of animal protein, even more than eating red meat. Fish body has the best form of healthy essential oil, i.e. omega-3 fatty acids, while its liver is saturated with vitamin A and D. The human body cannot manufacture this essential oil (omega-3), and eating fish becomes compulsory for healthy longevity. Also fish are low in the bad saturated fats commonly found in red meat, called omega-6 type of fatty acids.
Omega-3 fish oil helps maintain a healthy cardiovascular system, regulate the blood clotting and prevents vessel constrictions, maintains their elasticity, preventing increased blood pressure. EPA and DHA are two components of omega-3 fish oil that are heart healthy and have established health benefits. These healthy fats are added commercially too many foods by the manufacturers, including eggs and peanut butter and bread.
Those who suffer irregular heart beat (rhythm disturbances); impending candidates for pacemaker insertions should take daily fish oil capsules in addition to eating fresh fish.
Children who eat fish may be less likely to develop asthma.
The omega-3 fatty acids in fish may reduce the risk of many types of cancers by 30 to 50 per cent, especially of the oral cavity, oesophagus, colon, breast, ovary and prostate.
Fish takes an important role in the prenatal and postnatal neurological development of the baby’s brain. EPA and DHA found in omega-3 fatty acids help this development.
Regular eating fish reduces tissue inflammation and alleviate the symptoms of rheumatoid and wear and tear arthritis (osteo-arthritis).
Fish also supplies other nutrients such as vitamin D, B2 (riboflavin) and selenium. Fish is rich in calcium, phosphorus and a great source of minerals, such as iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium and potassium.
Tilapia, locally called “Thalapath” poor man’s “Seer” fish, much cheaper than most other varieties contain only a modest amount of omega-3 compared to tuna trout and salmon. Farmed tilapia has been found to have high levels of omega-6 type of fatty acids, which most people obtain from any other foods including cooking vegetable oils. Eating more omega 6 types of fatty acids can cause number of health problems, including heart disease, and a balancing ratio should be kept in mind. Generally, keeping a ratio of 1:1 is advisable when it comes to the two fatty acids consumption.
The American Heart Foundation recommends at least two servings of fish per week, each serve equivalent to about 3.5 ounces of cooked fish. Eating fish twice a week also may reduce the risk of stroke, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and other chronic disabling conditions.
Salmon fish is not cheap in the markets, but it is a very rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, a 4 ounce serving contains between 1,200 and 2,400 mg of omega-3. Parents should encourage their children to eat more fish for their mental development, in Sri Lanka; at least about 20 percent of the parents should be able to afford it.
The trend is for parents to feed their growing up children with foods they relish like biryani, and rich foods cooked in omega-6 types of cooking oils, such as corn, and vegetable oils. This is revealed in the increasing degree of obesity among the school-going children.
Today, in Sri Lanka birthday parties of children are celebrated in food joints serving more omega-6 type of foods, with more red meat products like MacDonald’s, and other hot food outlets, very fashionable in the rich Colombo metropolis. Just drive down Rajagiriya suburb, you will know what I mean.
Other fishes high in omega-3s (in mg per 4 ounces) include mackerel (1,350 mg to 2,100 mg), albacore tuna (1,700 mg), herring (2,300-2,400 mg), anchovies (2,300-2,400 mg), sardines (1,100-1,600 mg), and freshwater trout (1,000-1,100 mg).
Farm fed fish may not have the same amount of omega-3 fatty acids as much as wild from the sea, depending on the food fed to these farm fish. Some farm fed fish are fed with better diets – particularly with fishmeal, with added fish oils, and algae leading to a more favourable ratio of the two omega fatty acids.
The American Heart Foundation recommends you to get the omega-3 components of fatty acids more from the natural fish than the convenient swallowing of a fish capsule.
Risks of eating fish or any other food
Numerous pollutants make their way into the rich foods we eat, from the exposed fruits and vegetables from the wayside vendors, including eggs and meat. Fish is no exception. Just visit any popular market on Galle Road, especially the famous one in Wellawatte. Fish is exposed to the pollutants within the market premises, whilst chunks of red meat are exposed on hooks in the adjoining stalls. Walking further towards the front, varieties of vegetables are exposed to road pollutants. In addition to these markets, fish is sold in the open on the curbs, in crowded areas, exposed to road pollution. They are exposed to the morning sun, and the rate of pollution goes un-noticed.
Recently, a few doctors attending a conference, suffered food poisoning after enjoying a buffet dinner at one of the five star hotels in Colombo, now under investigation by the Municipal Health Department.
A greater disadvantage of eating the big fish from the deep seas is mercury poisoning. Some fish contain mercury. For men and women not of childbearing age, it is not clear that mercury exposure from typical levels of fish intake has any adverse health effects.
Chemicals called dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) can accumulate in foods, including fish. The levels of such chemicals in fish, especially farmed fish, are very low and similar to levels in meat and dairy products. Compared with the health benefits of fish intake, the health risks of these chemical levels are very low and should not influence individual decisions about fish intake.
The American Medical Association says their potential presence “should not influence individual decisions about fish intake.
However, expectant mothers and those breast feeding and very young children should avoid 4 types of fish that are considered high in mercury content: shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and golden bass. Other fish should still be consumed to ensure that infants receive the benefits of DHA for brain development. Light tuna has relatively low levels of mercury, and other fish, such as wild and farmed salmon and shrimp, contain very low levels of mercury.
Parasites in Fish
Japanese eat fish raw, such as sashimi and parasitic worms becomes sometimes a concern. The common worm is called nematodes, also named as “cod worms” and tapeworms. Tapeworms are much worse: they can live in the human digestive tract for years, growing up to a couple of yards long, causing severe pain, weight loss, and anaemia.
Much sushi- and sashimi-grade fish is flashing frozen to kill parasites or comes from a type of fish that has a low risk of parasitic infection.
Fish needs to be cooked well to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees F or until the meat is opaque and separates easily with a fork. Opaque means light can’t pass through the fish meat and it does not look clear and shiny.
• The general cooking time for baking, poaching, broiling, or grilling fish is about 10 minutes for every inch of thickness. For frozen, unthawed fish, double the cooking time to 20 minutes for every inch.
• To reduce exposure to contaminants, remove the fish skin and visible fat before cooking.
• Smoked fish
Refrigerated smoke fish being uncooked, poses an increased risk of bacterial infection. It is safer to cook smoked seafood such as a casserole, is quite safe.
Fish oil supplements?
Majority of the people take fish oil supplements daily. Fish oil capsules come in 1000mg capsules overseas, whilst in Sri Lanka only 300mg capsules seems to be available. Maximum daily use is 3000mg. but 2 capsules of 1000mg would be sufficient for most people. A word of caution: contaminants such as PCBs accumulate in fish oil just as they do in fish, so make sure to buy capsules that are made from purified fish oil Alternative sources of omega-3 Alternative sources of omega-3s come from terrestrial sources like flaxseed, walnuts and wheat germ. While still beneficial, these do not appear to provide as a great a health benefit as the omega-3s found in fish, shellfish and marine algae.
Omega-3 lifestyle is healthy and good for longevity.