Superfoods: Fish (or is it?)

In #Superfoods, Health, Nutrition, Uncategorized by Polina

Fish, glorious fish! One of the things I’ve planned for the new year is to EAT MORE FISH. Or fish oil. Or both. Not so fast, Mr Bond!

There are no local fishmongers, Tesco counter doesn’t look inviting and Borough Market is way too crowded. Research! Oh dear, who knew what I was getting into…

Let’s start from the beginning – fish is very very good for you. It’s full of protein and nutrients, low in calories, and contains the so-important-and-desired omega-3! Apparently only about 30% of Brits get their 2-per-week of fish, for most it’s a once a month affair.

Take a look at the Consumer and Consumption list by the Seafish authority representing seafood industry in the UK (and a government body), most people ARE aware of the importance of omega-3 for health but, surprisingly, virtually the same percentage ARE NOT aware of the recommended 2 portions per week (one to be oily). How can this be? And sadly the overall consumption of fish is decreasing, though the data is from 2012, so maybe there’s been an improvement recently.

The key reason for people skipping fish is…it’s price. Understandably! Another thing is our perception of fish and seafood being a luxury. And nowadays there’s a lot of confusion regarding the choice of fish. We know best fish is the one that’s been caught this morning, comes from the clean waters, is sustainable and wild. Also it needs to be affordable, and, most importantly, tasty. Now try finding it in the supermarket… Even if at fishmongers do we actually know when, where and how this fish was caught? Is it farmed? What did they feed it? All this is just too complex. Makes sense to have a fish dish when eating out – responsibility of choosing the right fish falls onto the chef, woohoo!

I was hoping to find answers to all of the above and devise a simple list of what to look for/avoid when purchasing a fish, but the more I read the more confusing and, frankly, disheartening it got.

Here are a few things I’ve found

Frozen fish is fine. No need to thaw, cook from frozen. Flash freezing works for veg, fruit and fish too. Unless you live on the coast or know (and can afford) fishmongers with daily supply of freshly caught fish, technically frozen fish becomes the safest option (and the wild fish becomes affordable too). The thing to check is where the fish is from and whether it is farmed or wild.

Sustainability – this was the most frustrating part.  From one side wild fish is not as healthy as it used to be with oceans polluted, with mercury warnings, it’s expensive, it’s not clear how long it takes for caught fish to get to the shore and to the shops, basically how fresh is fresh?

From another side, fish farm regulations seem to be lacking unified standards, with the USA not accepting products from farms confirmed by the most advanced European accreditation (by the way these products and accreditation are not even available in the UK, so what sort of standard do we have here?). I would have thought it is not that difficult to agree on what it is healthy and what is harmful and go from there, but hey, I am just a potential consumer.

Even though farmed fish is not as healthy as wild, it is still healthy and full of nutrients, but the thing to watch out is contamination. But if the fish comes from extensive rather than intensive farm, then there’s not much to worry about. Extensive are the farms that integrate with surroundings so that they function as natural ecosystems, leaving the water that flows through it cleaner than before. Question is where are they? I could not find one in the UK…

Fish & chips – if cooked properly, is a nutritious dish! Skip chips, substitute with salad… The things is to find a good chippie, which leads us back to the standards.

Basically despite the fact that eating fish is highly recommended, it seems the only safe option is to catch your fish yourself from the clean ocean if you can find one! For now, until there’s a clear and safe unified and scientifically supported standard, I’m going to go with wild + frozen option and will reverse eat out to cook at home.

The sad thing the same refers to virtually everything – fish oil supplements are only good if the fish used was fresh but how do we know it – labels do not even state what fish has been used in the fish oil? Meat is only good if it is free range and grass fed, spinach loses most of it’s nutrients within 48h of being picked, organic does not mean no pesticides…

We are very resilient, and we like our food, so let’s just try our best to choose well and cook well, and eventually industries will have to follow!

A guide to choosing your fish –