Eat Your Fish

Health benefits, risks and cooking methods.

Austria is a country where eating fish isn’t very popular and I know many people who categorically avoid fish. “No, I don’t eat that! It smells strange.” This makes me sad, as I love fish and I really have a hard time understanding people who don’t. It tastes great, is easy to prepare and it’s incredibly nutritious. Let me explain why.

Health Benefits

Most health benefits of eating fish and seafood in general can be attributed to its high omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D content. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids: it means that our body can not build them and you have to absorb them with the food you eat. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish have also a much better bioavailability than plant-sourced ones like linseed oil. Also being high in many oligo-elements, fish is a real super food. Forget about acai berries and wheat grass. Eat like a bear!

  • Eating at least one serving of fish per week has been linked to reduced risk of heart attacks and strokes, two of the world’s biggest killers. Protect your heart, eat fish!
  • Fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which is essential for development of the brain and eyes. It is recommended that expecting and nursing mothers make sure to eat enough omega-3s. Want smart and hawkeyed bear cubs? Eat fish!
  • Fish consumption is linked to reduced decline in brain function in old age. People who eat fish regularly also have more grey matter in the brain centers that control memory and emotion.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids can be beneficial against depression, both on their own and when taken with antidepressant medications. Yes, eating fish makes you happy. I’ve never seen a bear that wasn’t happy while eating his salmon.
  • Fatty fish is an excellent, if not THE best, source of vitamin D, an important nutrient that over 40% of people may be deficient in.
  • Eating fish has been linked to reduced risk of type 1 diabetes and several other autoimmune diseases. Want a resilient immune system? Eat your fish!
  • Some studies show that children who eat more fish have a lower risk of developing asthma. Make sure your siblings never get out of breath. Feed them fish!
  • People who eat more fish have a much lower risk of developing macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision impairment and blindness. Eating much fish makes hunting for more fish even easier. A win-win situation.
  • There is preliminary evidence that eating fatty fish like salmon may lead to improved sleep. What’s better than eating a fish and then sleeping like a bear?!

Risks

As you can see, fish is incredible. But people love nitpicking and if you are paranoid and obsessive enough, you can find risks in pretty much anything, including fish.

In short, there is no direct research showing any adverse health effects of high fish consumption. While mercury toxicity is a known risk, the health benefits of fish consumption generally outweigh any potential adverse effects of its mercury toxicity (children and pregnant mothers are a notable exception, as children are much more vulnerable to mercury toxicity than fully developed adults).

If you eat tons of fish, you may consider eating mostly smaller fish that are relatively low in the aquatic food chain, as mercury accumulates whenever a fish eats another fish (bioaccumulation). Large predatory fish like tuna are relatively high in mercury and smaller forage fish like herring and mackerel are quite low.

Contamination with parasites is a known problem, but usually only known in tropical climates. Fish that has to travel so far to get on your plate is usually frozen anyways, killing most, if not all, parasites that might contaminate it. Only pregnant women should be extra careful and avoid eating raw fish.

Cooking Methods

Many people are afraid of doing something wrong when preparing fish. To be honest, there isn’t much to be afraid! Just never overcook it. Always buy good quality. Use it on the same day you buy it.

  • Grilling and broiling fish can produce some harmful compounds. To minimize them, cook fish for the shortest time possible, avoid charring the flesh and add a marinade.
  • Frying can increase the amount of fat in your fish and negatively affect its ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. If you’re frying, pan-fry rather than deep-fry your fish, and use a healthy oil like olive oil.
  • Poaching and steaming are low-temperature cooking methods that may preserve healthy omega-3 fatty acids better than other methods.
  • By baking your fish in the oven, you’ll likely lose less healthy omega-3 fats than if you fry or microwave it.
  • Microwaving fish can help prevent it from losing healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and may also cause fewer harmful compounds to form. Microwaving is a relatively low-temperature cooking method, protecting micronutrients better than most people think.
  • Sous vide is a very low-temperature cooking method. It may help preserve some of the healthy omega-3 fats in fish, as well as reduce the amounts of harmful compounds that can form during cooking. If you have a sous vide apperature at home, I envy you. Please make use of it!
  • Eating raw fish is a great way to preserve all the “good stuff”. Be extra careful when selecting a fish. Quality is super important here so talk to your fishmonger. Don’t be afraid to make your own sashimi, it’s easy to prepare and super tasty.

A fishy tip

If you ever are lucky enough to get fresh herring, buy them. I bought some in Scotland at a lovely old-school fishmonger, not quite sure what to do with them, but I was too curious to resist. I just fried them in the pan, skin side down, and they were amazing. Literally the best fish I ever had! Nothing to compare to the brined, jarred stuff you usually get, which is also delicious, but very, very different. Tender meat, a buttery flavour, comforting fish taste, crispy skin. I even had them for breakfast. Only for those herrings I would return to Scotland!

The “silver darling” in action. A breakfast fit for kings

So what are you waiting for, go buy some fish! Learn to love it if you aren’t already addicted. This is a true super food, so enjoy it as often as possible. If you are a fish lover like myself, share this article with your friends, maybe we can convert some fishy infidels together.

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