Taking Care of Your Health

Boost Your Health With These Fish Facts

September 08, 2016


How nutritious is seafood?

Dr. Nagi B Kumar
Nagi B Kumar,  Ph.D. Professor, Senior Member, Director, Cancer Chemoprevention

Seafood includes all fish and shellfish. Fish is an excellent source of protein that contains less that 15-20 percent fat. In fact, ounce for ounce, fish has higher protein content than most meats and poultry. Similarly, shellfish such as shrimp, crab, oysters and lobster, as well as octopus, squid and scallops, provide high quality protein with all the dietary essential amino acids and omega-3 fats for maintenance and growth of the human body. In addition to high quality proteins, seafood is also rich in major minerals like iron, zinc, copper and vitamins such as vitamin D and B12. In shellfish - including shrimp, clams, scallops, lobsters and crabs - 15 percent or less of the calories come from fat. Even in oysters and mussels, only about 20 to 28 percent of the calories come from fat. Although some of the shellfish especially squid and shrimp have a relatively higher concentration of cholesterol, these concentrations balance out the good fats like the omega-3 present in these shellfish. Shellfish like oysters, mussels, clams and calamari (squid) all supply healthy omega-3 fats.

Make Baked Sockeye Salmon Tonight!

What is the value of omega-3 fats in seafood?

Seafood is also a major source of omega-3 fats which are important for normal brain development, healthy skin, nerves, immune function, stroke and heart disease. In a study of nearly 80,000 American nurses, women who ate fish five or more times a week had about half the risk of stroke than women who ate fish less than once a month. We and other researchers around the world have continued to discover the important role of omega-3 fats to reduce inflammation that is critical for preventing chronic diseases and well as mitigate some of symptoms of cancer treatment as well as aging. We are currently studying omega-3 fats that have been shown to contain “pro-resolvins” that are important in reducing some of symptoms of cancer cachexia, “chemo brain” and in resolving damage caused to the lungs in former smokers. More recently, sports drinks made with omega-3 and berry juices have been used in muscle recovery in Olympic and other elite athletes.

Do farmed fish have the same nutritional value as fresh caught fish?

Farmed fish are in many ways the seafood equivalent of grain-fed cattle; they are an attractive way to meet growing demand, but have heavy nutritional and environmental tolls. Farmed fish are fattier than wild-caught fish - close to five times as fatty in farmed versus wild salmon and catfish - but have lower levels of the “good” omega-3 fats. Farmed fish also are treated with antibiotics and pesticides - the effects of which are of concern.

What about mercury and other contaminants in fresh caught fish?

Omega-3 fats from seafood has been shown to play a role in the development of the nervous system of an unborn child or young child. However, seafood may contain varying levels of mercury which can harm the developing nervous system. In addition to mercury, fish may contain other harmful chemicals, including fish caught in local waters. Fish choices that are lower in mercury include salmon, flounder, tilapia, trout, Pollock and catfish. Fish high in mercury like shark, swordfish, tilefish, and King mackerel, canned “white” tuna (albacore) should be avoided during pregnancy, lactation and in children. For other contaminants in local waters, check local advisories to learn about the safety of fish caught in your local lakes, rivers and coastal areas.

Is it safe to eat sushi and sashimi?

With the rising popularity with sushi, it is important to know how to best to eat sushi while ensuring safety. Originating from Japan, traditional sushi is made with rice with vinegar and can include nigiri (raw fish) on top of the rice and maki (fish and/or vegetables) rolled in rice and seaweed. Sashimi is just sliced raw fish served on its own.

As with eating any raw food, especially seafood, safety is the key. Reputable restaurants with sushi bars usually have trained sushi chefs who are knowledgeable on how to buy, examine, store and handle fish to minimize risks. Since raw seafood may harbor parasites as well as bacteria and viruses, it is best to avoid sushi during and post cancer treatment or when you are pregnant as well as in young children.
The safest options are sushi that is made with cooked fish, such as shrimp (ebi), eel and crab. Sushi or sashimi made with fresh water fish, such as pike, yellow perch and brook trout must be avoided.

What is the best way to cook seafood?

Grilling, broiling, roasting, or baking with a brushed extra virgin olive oil is an ideal way to cook fish. Avoid breading or frying seafood and creamy sauces, all of which add calories and fat. Spices such as garlic, pepper, dill, chili powder, or cumin, and soy, teriyaki, lemon or lime juice enhance the flavors of fish. Cook fish to 145°F, until it flakes with a fork.
In addition to fillet of fish, get creative with seafood. Try fish tacos, fish stews and seafood patties made with a combination of vegetables and potatoes. Try mussels or shrimp marinara, oyster stew, steamed clams, or pasta with calamari or shrimp. Grilled Atlantic or Pacific mackerel, herring are great on a salad.

How much seafood should I eat a week?

To get the most value, select fish that are rich in omega-3 fats include salmon, herring, mussels, trout, sardines and Pollock. Include 12 16 ounces of the foods high is omega-3 fats each week. Among all seafood available, sockeye salmon can be considered a “super seafood!”