Did You Know ?


Seafood is great food for old and young, since it is so easily digested and so healthful. Fish and shellfish are variously rich in vitamins, high–quality protein, major minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium, and trace minerals such as iron, copper, zinc, iodine, vitamin B12, folic acid, fluoride and selenium. Calcium is found in those fish having bones that we eat, bones that are soft and harmless when cooked, like in canned sardines, salmon and anchovies. The unsaturated omega–3 fatty acids that are found in seafood are useful in combating high blood–cholesterol levels and therefore heart disease, and in preventing immune and inflammatory ailments. Generally speaking, fattier fish such as salmon, whitefish and mackerel have higher levels of omega–3s − the exception is eel, which has low omega–3s.

High on health, low on the bad stuff

Fish and shellfish are low in calories (most have fewer than 150 calories in 3½ ounces of cooked flesh), low in sodium (except canned seafood preparations and smoked and cured seafood) and low in saturated fats and cholesterol (most have less than 100 ml of cholesterol in 3½ ounces of raw flesh.) Since the American Heart Association and the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute recommend that we limit our intake of cholesterol to 300 ml or less per day, it is best to eat only a little red or organ meat, fewer dairy products and saturated oils and a variety of seafood often.

Nearly all fish have less than 20% fat when raw − most have less than 5%, others less than 2.5%, which is far less than a beefsteak, which has 37% fat, or a pork chop, which has 21% fat, or even chicken. The percentage will change depending on the cooking method and vary according to the season and other factors. The fat in seafood is high in polyunsaturated fatty acids and tends to lower the blood lipids, thereby helping to prevent blood clots from forming. It also helps combat arthritis, asthmas, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, lupus, psoriasis, migraines, prostate tumors and cancer of the breast, colon and pancreas.

Oh, yes to omega–3!

In recent years, studies have revealed the crucial role of omega–3 fatty acids in seafood rich diets. Until recently, the Japanese have had very little incidence of heart disease, because they ate fish on most days. Now that they are beginning to eat like Westerners, heart disease is on the rise. In Greenland, heart disease was nearly unknown, because the Eskimo diet relied heavily on fish, in addition to seal and whale. The Dutch, too, were found to benefit from eating a fair amount of fish – even though the fish was mostly lean. It seems that even the smallest of omega–3s, when taken regularly, combats heart disease.

Watch out for oily fat

In general, except for the oil necessary to keep fish from sticking to a pan or grill, little added fat is needed when cooking seafood, for it tastes best simple prepared − broiled, grilled, roasted or baked in the oven, cooked in a microwave oven, poached or steamed. And of course, any oil that is used is best kept cholesterol–free. What varies among the oils is their saturated fat. The more saturated fat, the more cholesterol your body will produce. Olive oil, which is monounsaturated, and safflower, corn sunflower, soybean, walnut and cotton seed oils, which are polyunsaturated, are considered better for health than the coconut and palm oils, which are saturated.

Comparing different sources of information on nutrition content will show that various sources may give slightly different figures for fat, saturated fat, omega–3 and cholesterol content for individual fish and shellfish. There are three main reasons for this: the natural variables that occur between individual fish; the differences within each fish tested (some sections are more fatty than others, for instance); and variety in modes of testing. When considering the effect of fish and shellfish on your health, just keep in mind the following:

  • Shellfish and fish are low in fat. A low fat diet in turn lowers cholesterol production in our bodies. You can safely eat a variety of seafood, which is what most people do naturally, without raising your cholesterol level. Even though some seafood are high in cholesterol, many of these are high in omega–3s, which combat it. Consider cutting down your fat in other foods so that you can benefit from the fattier fish and their omega–3 fatty acids.
  • You may eat moderate amounts of shellfish when on a low–cholesterol diet, because shellfish is low in saturated fat. But if you are on a strict low–cholesterol diet, eat small portions infrequently.