NHS guidelines state that a healthy diet should include at least two portions of fish a week, including one of oily fish. This week Nikki Edwards, explains why it is the cleanest, leanest form of protein you can eat and looks at a sustainable selection available from the Suffolk coast.
Fish and shellfish are the single best protein source available.
Packed full of vitamins and minerals and, in some cases, high in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, it is believed to help keep your heart healthy, your body in tip top condition and your brain performing perfectly.
We are extremely lucky, living where we do, to be able to access fresh, locally caught produce straight from the North Sea.
In fact, fishing has been one of Suffolk’s most important industries for at least 900 years and everything from herring, sprats, smelts and shrimps through to sole, cod, lobster and crab has been caught here.
Fish can be bought direct from the fisherman’s sheds in coastal towns to include Orford, Aldeburgh, Thorpness and Southwold and there are plenty of stalls and fishmongers in other villages to ensure you can get your meal fresh.
So why make fish your dish?
Fish has a huge range of health benefits but different types of fish and shellfish provide different nutrients.
Oily fish is full of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids which help prevent heart disease and is a good source of vitamin D. Salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout and herring are all oily fish.
Some oily fish contain bones that you eat which make them a good source of calcium and phosphorus. These include whitebait, canned sardines, pilchards and tinned salmon (but not fresh salmon). Other oily fish are: anchovies, carp, jack, trout, fresh tuna and whitebait. Canned tuna does not count.
Cod, haddock, plaice, pollack, coley, dab, flounder, red mullet, gurnard and tilapia are all examples of white fish.
White fish are low in fat which makes them one of the healthier, low-fat alternatives to red or processed meat. White fish is also a source of omega-3 fatty acids, but at much lower levels than oily fish.
Shellfish includes prawns, mussels, scallops, squid and langoustine.
Shellfish are low in fat and a source of selenium, zinc, iodine and copper.
Some types of shellfish, such as mussels, oysters, squid and crab, are also good sources of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, but they do not contain as much as oily fish.
How much should we eat?
Most of us should have more fish in our diet but there are maximum recommended amounts for oily fish, crab and some types of white fish. This is because oily fish can contain low levels of pollutants like mercury that can build up in the body.
The current guideline is to eat at least one portion (around 140 grams when cooked) of oily fish a week.
But women and girls should eat no more than two portions of oily fish a week if they may become pregnant in future or if they are currently pregnant or breastfeeding. This is because pollutants found in oily fish may affect the development of a baby in the womb.
Men and boys, and women and girls who know they won’t become pregnant in future, can eat up to four portions of oily fish a week.
There is separate advice about the consumption of swordfish. This is because it can contain more mercury than other fish. Children, pregnant women and women who are trying to become pregnant should not eat swordfish at all. Other adults should eat no more than one portion of swordfish per week.
Regular fish-eaters should avoid eating brown crab meat too often for the same reason. But there is no need to limit the amount of white crab meat that you eat. There are no maximum recommended amounts for other types of shellfish.
What about white fish?
You can safely eat as much cod, haddock, plaice, pollack, coley, Dover sole, dab, flounder, red mullet and gurnard as you like.
But some white fish may contain similar levels of certain pollutants as oily fish. These are: sea bream, sea bass, turbot, halibut and rock salmon (also known as dogfish, flake, huss, rigg or rock eel).
Anyone who regularly eats a lot of fish should avoid eating these five fish too often.
Marlin is also a white fish to be wary of. They contain more mercury than other fish.
Many shark and marlin species are endangered too, so really we should all avoid eating these fish to help stop these species becoming extinct.
Isn’t all fish endangered?
Overfishing endangers the future supply of fish and can also cause damage to the environment from which the fish is caught.
But when fish or shellfish are caught or produced in a way that allows stocks to replenish and that does not cause unnecessary damage to marine animals and plants, those fish or shellfish are called “sustainable”.
In Suffolk fishermen are committed to sustainability.
The Orford Fishermen for example, care about the local fishing waters and instead of the damaging methods used by large beam trawlers that kill indiscriminately, they use line, pot and drift net fishing to catch their quota. These techniques do not threaten the water environment and leave fish stocks at healthy levels for future generations to enjoy.
Maximus Sustainable Fishing in Lowestoft is another example. They use environmentally friendly fishing techniques to cause minimum disruption to marine life.
There are a number of websites giving up-to-date information about fish stocks globally. A good place to start is the homepage of the Marine Conservation Society (MSC).
Grill, poach, steam, bake or BBQ your fish instead of frying it if you want to keep your calorie-intake low.
Fish and shellfish are both great sources of lean protein. Protein helps fill you up and keep you feeling satisfied, which in turn aids your weight-loss goals by making you less likely to snack on high-calorie foods between meals. Protein also helps keep blood-sugar levels steady, which improves mood and protects against type 2 diabetes.
Here are some of the best forms of protein you can add to your diet:
Features and benefits: Fish is easy to digest and boasts a high level of precious proteins along with omega-3 fatty acids thought to lower the blood pressure, strengthen the immune system and have positive effects on the development on the nervous system and the cardiovascular system.
How to use it: Fish should be the primary food protein that you eat.
Features and benefits: Whey protein is found mainly in meal-replacement powders, protein powders and ready-to-drinks (RTDs). Whey contains all of the essential amino acids and is particularly high in the branched-chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine and valine) and glutamine (an immune-boosting amino acid). Whey is considered a “fast-acting” protein.
How to use it: It’s best to consume a fast-acting protein like whey immediately after an intense workout.
Features and benefits: It’s been shown that soy protein has powerful antioxidant capabilities provide significant health and anti-cancer benefits.
How to use it: Soy is best used as a part of a meal-replacement powder. Alternatively, soy products (e.g., soy milk, tofu, miso soup) are wonderful foods as well.
Features and benefits: Milk contains all of the essential amino acids. It is also packed full of calcium which is good for bones and teeth.
How to use it: Drink a glass before bed. The majority of the protein in milk is casein (a “slow” protein), so you will get a slow and sustained elevation of amino acids throughout the night while you sleep that will ensure that your body has the amino acids it needs to facilitate muscle recovery.
Features and benefits: Beef is an excellent protein source and is loaded with zinc and iron as well. The key is that you need to consume lean beef.
How to use it: Beef can be eaten as part of your regular diet (perhaps once or twice per week).
Features and benefits: Chicken contains all of the essential amino acids and is a favorite amongst fitness enthusiasts.
How to use it: Chicken is a favorite amongst athletes. It’s best you consume chicken as part of your regular meals.
Features and benefits: Eggs are a rich source of thiamine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, folic acids, vitamin B12, biotin, vitamin D, vitamin E and phosphorus.
How to use it: Egg white omelets (three to five egg whites with one whole egg) are an excellent food.