There’s a lot of conflicting info floating around (pun intended) about fish. We’ve been told we should eat it twice a week for heart health, yet avoid certain kinds because of high mercury and toxins such as dioxins and PCBs that build up in fatty tissue over time, causing health problems. Some species, like Chilean seabass and certain types of salmon, are over-fished, but others are still ok. And what about farmed fish? Farming practices can be less than ideal; fish are given feed that can alter the omega3: omega6 fatty acid ratio, and many farmed fish are fed dyes to make their flesh look more vibrant in the store display case. Farmed fish are also exposed to more antibiotics and pesticides. Yuck.
Confusing, to say the least. The Environmental Defense Fund has a very detailed and handy card that you can print out from their website and take with you to the store. It details Best, OK, and Worst choices. I’ll simplify even further with a few hard and fast rules:
*avoid ALL larger, predatory fish like any tuna (including canned), shark, mackerel, swordfish, and halibut. These are high in mercury and other toxins because they eat the smaller fish on the chain, and the mercury both from ingested fish and naturally produced from the ocean floor build up in their tissues over time.
*avoid farmed fish at all costs UNLESS it comes from a certifiable source with stringent aquaculture guidelines, including feed free of pesticides, antibiotics, and PCBs. To my knowledge, Whole Foods markets are the only store that has set up guidelines for farmed fish that would meet healthy criteria. They also work with sustainable fisheries who raise farmed fish in a healthful and environmentally conscious manner.
*avoid imported shellfish, such a shrimp from China. They are filled with toxins and are fed a diet that contains other fish, when shrimp should survive on plankton and sea vegetables.
Here is the good and bad list:
* = good source of omega3 fatty acids
Char, Arctic *
Cod, Pacific *
Sablefish/black cod (from Alaska,Canada, some US varieties OK) *
Salmon (Alaska wild) *
Salmon, canned pink/sockeye *
Sardines (U.S.) *
Sea Scallops (US, Canada)
Shrimp, pink (Oregon)
Chilean seabass (over-fished)
Crab, king (imported)
Mahimahi (imported – some domestic OK)
Rockfish (Pacific trawl)
Salmon, farmed or Atlantic
Snapper, red or imported
To make things simple, I limit my fish consumption to once weekly, and I choose from Artic Char, Sablefish (black cod), Alaskan Salmon, and occasionally, local shellfish, trout, or bass. Here’s a recipe I made tonight.
Arctic Char with Chard (adapted from a recipe from Whole Foods)
1 bunch red or rainbow chard
1 lb Arctic Char, cut into 2 filets
2-4 cloves garlic
1 tbs olive oil
sesame oil to taste
salt and pepper
Wash chard well in a large basin of cold water. Drain well. Cut or strip leaves from the stems. Slice stems into 1/4-inch pieces and set aside in a bowl. Roughly chop leaves and set aside in a second bowl.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic and cook until caramelized, about 3 minutes. Add chard stems, cover and cook 2 minutes. Stir in chard leaves, cover and cook 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add 1 broth, if necessary, to create enough steam to cook greens quickly. When ready, greens should be wilted but still bright green.
Meanwhile, arrange fillets in a single layer on a large plate and season with pepper. Drizzle on the tamari and sesame oil. Turn pieces over to coat all surfaces.
Heat another 2 teaspoons oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add char, arranging pieces in a single layer, and cook 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until done. When char is done, arrange it on top of the chard and serve immediately.
Per serving: 370 calories (230 from fat), 25g total fat, 5g saturated fat, 90mg cholesterol, 410mg sodium, 6g total carbohydrate (2g dietary fiber, 2g sugar), 29g protein
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