Fishin’ for nutrition

For years, if you mentioned brain food, fish came to mind. But over the past while, its reputation in health circles has soared, making it a top choice for reducing the risk of a variety of ailments. Among the many perks of consuming fish is protection against heart disease and stroke as well as inflammatory and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. And with the assortment of good quality offerings available in the marketplace, there’s never been a better time to partake of fare from the sea. Palate pleasing and nutritious to boot — what more could you ask for?

First, the health benefits. Early research from Holland showed that men who ate fish three to four times a week had a 50 per cent less chance of dying from heart disease than those who ate no fish. Scientists proposed that omega-3 fatty acids, the type of fat found in fish, may be what provides some of the heart health advantages.

Lower levels of the blood fat, triglycerides, along with a positive effect on blood clotting were among the healthy attributes identified. And to boost fish’s healthy stature even further, studies show that omega-3 fatty acids can help stabilize heart rhythms after a heart attk, leading to a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been showing promise in the battle against inflammatory diseases. Research has shown that in those with rheumatoid arthritis, omega-3 fatty acid intake was linked to a decrease in the number of tender joints as well as the duration of morning stiffness. Benefits may also be seen in people with other autoimmune diseases such as lupus.

But not all fish contain large amounts of these fatty acids. Cold water ocean fish such as mackerel, salmon, sea herring, mullet, canned sardines and smelts are among the richest sources. Those with low omega counts, though, are low in total fat, making them ideal for healthy eating as well.

Shellfish, long avoided by cholesterol-watchers, can also be a heart healthy choice. This is due to its low fat content, especially saturated fat, which has much more of a blood cholesterol-boosting effect than the dietary cholesterol contained.

Yet many people turn their noses up at the thought of eating fish, let alone preparing it. An unsavoury reputation was due to the way fish used to taste once it arrived at inland destinations without today’s advanced methods of shipping and refrigeration. Nowadays, there’s a variety of top quality fish with flavours and textures to suit all tastes.

Finding a fish counter where fresh selections are sold is the first step to making great-tasting fish. Don’t assume that just because it’s being sold that it’s of good quality. A reputable fishmonger is always a great help but if you’re choosing the fish on your own, look for those that do not have a strong smell, have bright eyes if the head is still attached, and have a firm texture. When you press the flesh with a finger, you should encounter a little resistance. If preparing a whole fish is beyond your scope – at least for now — opt for fish fillets. They’re also super for those who have a fear of bones.

Fish, as it takes just minutes to prepare, is also perfect for today’s fast-paced lifestyle. The Canadian Fisheries Rule of cooking fish 10 minutes for each inch of thickness is known the world over. Canned fish, such as salmon or tuna, are terrific alternatives to fresh. For lower sodium and fat counts, purchase water-packed varieties rather than those packed in oil and then rinse them well. The rinsing can lower the amount of sodium, making it unnecessary to buy salt-free versions.

And there’s no more versatile fare than fish. Baked, roasted, broiled, poached, sautéed or grilled, whatever your choice of preparation, be sure to use more flavourful seasoning for fish that is low in fat.

For fish with a Mediterranean flare, use a good quality extra virgin olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs and lemon juice. Sautéed in a pan or on a barbecue grill, it’s a taste that can’t be beat.

Or go Asian with soy sauce, ginger and sesame oil – a tasty combination as a marinade. And plain poached or grilled fish need not be boring. Serve it with a zesty salsa or a yogurt-light mayonnaise sauce mixed with grainy mustard and chopped fresh dill.

Roasted Asian Salmon

So simple, yet so tasty. The leftovers are terrific cold the next day.

Makes 4 servings

1 tablespoon (15 mL) light mayonnaise
2 teaspoons (10 mL) Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon (15 mL) honey
1 tablespoon (15 mL) sodium-reduced soy sauce
4 4 to 6-oz (100 to 150 g) salmon fillets
1 tablespoon (15 mL) sesame seeds, toasted
Preheat oven to 425 F/ 230 C.

In a small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise and Dijon mustard until well mixed. Add honey and soy sauce; mix well. Place salmon skin side down in a large baking dish. Coat with mayonnaise mixture. Place in oven and roast for 15 to 20 minutes or until fish is cooked through. Sprinkle sesame seeds over the salmon and serve.

Per serving nutritional information:
Calories: 230
Protein: 28 grams
Fat: 10 grams
Carbohydrate: 5 grams
Dietary fibre: less than 1 gram


Grilled Fish with a Mango and Papaya Salsa

Grilled fish like tuna, sea bass and swordfish is terrific hot or cold with this tasty salsa.

Makes 4 servings

2 tablespoons (25 mL) extra virgin olive oil
1 cup (250 mL) diced mango
1 cup (250 mL) diced papaya
1/2 cup (125 mL) diced red pepper
1/4 cup (50 mL) finely chopped red onion
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
1/4 cup (50 mL) fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons (25 mL) fresh lime juice, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 4 to 6-oz (100 to 150 g) fish fillets

In a medium bowl, gently toss together mango, papaya, red pepper, onion, jalapeño pepper (if using), lime juice and one tablespoon (15 mL) olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside or refrigerate if making ahead of time.

Preheat grill or broiler. Coat fish with remaining tablespoon (15 mL) olive oil. Grill or broil for 10 minutes per inch thickness, making sure to turn fish over at half time. Serve immediately with salsa on the side.

Per serving nutritional information:
Calories: 262
Protein: 29 grams
Fat: 8 grams
Carbohydrate: 14 grams
Dietary fibre: 2 grams