April 17, 2013

Eating Fish: What's Good for Us AND the Planet?

I’ve written often – mostly recently on April 11 -- about the benefits of the classic Mediterranean diet. Naturally, one of the key features of that diet – enjoyed by millions of people who live close to those blue waters – is fish.

Sardines, for instance – found in abundance across the Mediterranean and available, just caught, in street markets from Spain to Turkey – are high in desirable omega-3 fatty acids. Those omega-3s have been shown to reduce inflammation, and they may help reduce risk of chronic diseases like cancer, arthritis, and coronary disease.

But . . . fish eaters, beware! All fish are not created equal -- for your health OR for the environment.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium – a magnificent place – publishes a “Seafood Watch” bulletin, which recommends eating fish according to several criteria, including:


  • Sustainability, 
  • Good source of “long-chain” omega-3 fatty acids, 
  • Low in contaminants, like mercury 
By the way, here’s how the Aquarium explains those contaminants:
Seafood contaminants include metals (such as mercury, which affects brain function and development), industrial chemicals (PCBs and dioxins) and pesticides (DDT). These toxins usually originate on land and make their way into the smallest plants and animals at the base of the ocean food web. As smaller species are eaten by larger ones, contaminants are concentrated and accumulated. Large predatory fish—like swordfish and shark—end up with the most toxins. You can minimize risks by choosing seafood carefully. 
Their most recent “Super Green Best of the Best” list (from 2010 . . . perhaps nothing has really changed since then) includes these choices that are good for us AND the oceans:
  • Albacore Tuna (troll-or pole-caught, from the U.S. or British Columbia) 
  • Freshwater Coho Salmon (farmed in tank systems, from the U.S.) 
  • Mussels (farmed) 
  • Oysters (farmed) 
  • Pacific Sardines (wild-caught) 
  • Pink Shrimp (wild-caught, from Oregon) 
  • Rainbow Trout (farmed) 
  • Salmon (wild-caught, from Alaska) 
  • Spot Prawns (wild-caught, from British Columbia) 
The Aquarium lists these other healthy "Best Choices":
  • Arctic Char (farmed) 
  • Barramundi (farmed, from the U.S.) 
  • Dungeness Crab (wild-caught, from California, Oregon or Washington) 
  • Longfin Squid (wild-caught, from the U.S. Atlantic) 
  • Mussels (farmed) 
Here’s a resource I found helpful: the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Pocket Guide for your area. These guides include best choices, good alternatives, and fish to avoid.

Here’s another great resource from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF): their "Seafood Selector". The menu offers “fish choices that are good for you and the oceans.” Like the Monterey Aquarium, the EDF offers 'best choices," “OK choices,” and "worst choices." In each of those categories, they highlight “Eco-OK,” “Eco-OK AND Healthy,” and sushi. This comprehensive guide also includes excellent images of all the fish.

I love seafood and it's almost always my first choice at a  restaurant. A big juicy steak has no appeal for me. At home, since I don't cook, my choice is what's quick and easy. My breakfast these days isn't built around a breakfast cereal. Instead, it features chopped smoked salmon with goat cheese, both from my local farmers' market . . . with a spoonful of Trader Joe's corn chili thrown in. My lunches often include canned sardines or pickled herring. 

A standard dietary recommendation is two or three servings of fish a week. I usually do much better than that. It's great when what I like to do coincides with what's good for me. It's not always thus.

Bon appetit! And . . . to your health!

1 comment:

janinsanfran said...

The Monterey Bay Aquarium also has a Seafood Watch app for iPhone (free). I downloaded it and use it to check the fish available at Costco -- that big box store has more sustainable fish than any other locally, according to them. Interesting, given that this is San Francisco.

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