OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS ARE CORRELATED WITH ALMOST NON-EXISTENT HEART DISEASE IN THOSE WHO EAT COLD WATER FISH LIKE SALMON, SARDINES AND ANCHOVIES.
The Inuit people who inhabit the most northerly latitudes of North America, Greenland and Siberia probably didn’t know they were doing anything special. They simply live on the restricted food sources of their Arctic environments. So when modern researchers discovered that their fatty fish diets correlated with almost non-existent heart disease, they could be excused for not getting all caught up in such kerfluffle. Fish and sea mammals are what they ate. It’s how they survived.
The fact that Inuit seem to benefit from fish consumption quickly caught the nutrition world by storm. A bit less reported is how they also have the lowest rate of hair loss in the world. That may be due to genetics more than lifestyle – but fatty protein always strengthens hair, so if you’re suffering from hair loss, it can’t hurt.
Since 1996, the American Heart Association (AHA) has advocated for regular consumption of essential fatty acids (EFAs), which includes Omega 3s found in nuts, flax seed and fish. The fish richest in Omega 3s are native to cold water – salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies and herring. These are rarely found in the typical American Tuesday evening dinner, but they should be more often. The AHA recommends 2-3 servings of fish per week.
Let’s be honest – fish has its avoiders. It’s difficult to cook, say some (probably, they just need to try the simpler recipes). Or, they just don’t like fish (Really? You’ve tried every species in the thousands of published recipes found via Google?). For anyone using the “but fish have mercury in them” excuse for not eating them, you can relax: mercury is most concentrated in larger, more mature fish, the big fish that eat the little fish. The Omega 3-rich species have much lower concentrations of methyl mercury than, say, swordfish, shark, albacore tuna, king mackerel and tilefish.
There are plenty of reasons to give it a shot. Consumption of EFA-rich cold water fish inhibit growth of artery plaque, reduce production of triglycerides and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, reduce inflammation (possibly affecting arthritis and migraine headaches), is associated with lower blood pressure and helps regulate blood sugar levels. EFAs, when low, cause dry hair and alligator skin (especially on the shins). The protein prevents hair breakage, and the oil adds hair luster.
Fish has historically been considered brain food, now with some evidence: Epidemiological data shows that countries with the highest seafood intakes have the lowest levels of major depression, bipolar disorder and homicide. Metabolic physiologist Dr. Stephen Cunnane, a researcher at the University of Sherbrooke (Sherbrooke, Quebec), posits in his book Survival of the Fattest (2005) that “shoreline foods” – fish, frogs and shellfish – led to homo sapiens’ evolutionary advance in brain size and mental capacity due to concentrations of fat and iodine in aquatic animals.
Omega 3 fatty acid: Eyes, fins, scales – or pills?
These are the reasons everyone’s doctor – most famously, Harvard School of Medicine-trained Dr. Andrew Weil – advocates taking a fish oil pill every day.
So does that let us all off the hook from eating herring, to continue announcing that we’ll take everything on the pizza but the anchovies, to object to eating anything with eyes looking up from the platter?
No. Sorry. There is a strong argument for eating the real fish. According to David Jacobs, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Minnesota, “We are confusing ourselves and the public by talking so much about nutrients when we should be talking about foods. Consumers get the idea that diet and health can be understood in terms of isolated nutrients. It’s not the best approach, and it might be wrong.”
In other words, there may be more to the benefit of fish than just the Omega 3. Fish generally contain Vitamin D, high quality protein, are low in saturated fats but high in polyunsaturated fats, magnesium, taurine and selenium. There may be benefits to these things in combination. Even Dr. Weil concedes that eating oily fish three times a week is better than popping pills.
But enough about obligatory eating. The pleasure of food is what will turn this into a regular habit. True seafood restaurants – the kind that know how to do more than deep-fry their foods (broiled, grilled and baked are far healthier) – are fine, but you really take charge of your health when you learn to cook.
Recipe tips for preparing and cooking cold water fish
Here are some recipe tips and links, and a recipe I came up with myself:
Try a side dish of pickled herring (3-4 pieces), sprinkled with soy nuts and with a dollop of mustard. Eaten 20 minutes before dinner, it can curb the appetite. For more elaborate approaches (e.g., apple stuffed herring, etc.),click here.
Italian cooks have no shortage of anchovy recipes, but there are other traditions that know how to use this fish as well.
You can make baked gefilte fish with mackerel, or give the fish burgers a try.
This site quotes a father saying something about a good sardine recipe is to feed it to the cat and order a pizza. I beg to differ. This and other recipes overcome that resistance (sorry, cat).
Salmon is very popular, and there is no lack of recipes. But there is the problem of farm-raised versus wild – wild is believed to be superior in lower chemical presence, including mercury. Surprisingly, canned salmon is almost always wild, quite versatile and inexpensive. This is my favorite recipe:
1 15-ounce can salmon
2 medium-sized chopped green peppers
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh garlic
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon dried chili pepper
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
Pour off juice from salmon (my dog loves it in her food in her food). Combine all ingredients in a non-stick sauce pan. Cook covered over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 10-12 minutes. Serves 2-4 people.
Perhaps the Inuit don’t use chili pepper or lemon juice in their salmon recipes. But I certainly urge them to try it.