The Food Standards Agency recommends that everyone should be eating two servings of fish per week…
One portion should be oily, such as fresh tuna, salmon, sardines or mackerel. Omega 3 fats in these fish help to reduce the risk of heart disease and strokes, autoimmune disorders and protect against problems related to the brain and nervous system.
On the other hand, there are only so many fish in the sea. According to a recent report by Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming, fish populations have declined dramatically and some fish stocks have little chance of recovery. Both over-fishing and intensive fishing methods, where giant nets are dragged across the ocean floor, devastate entire ecosystems.
Man’s reckless industrial pollution of the seas wreaks further havoc – the same fatty tissues in fish that provide the all-important omega 3’s, also harbour cancer causing dioxins and hormone-disrupting PCBs. These toxic compounds dissolve in the body fat of animals, passing in ever-greater concentrations up the food chain until they come back to haunt us in the very food we are supposed to be eating for good health… oily fish.
Certain species also contain high levels of the toxic metal mercury. The Food Standards Agency warns adults not to eat more than one portion of swordfish, shark or marlin a week because of their high mercury content. Women who are pregnant or planning to conceive, should completely avoid these species. They should also limit their intake of tuna for the same reason. In any case, the beneficial fats in canned tuna have been extracted and sold as animal feed.
The report lists ten fish available in the UK that are sustainable and healthy. These are herring, kippers, pilchards, sardines, sprats, trout (not farmed), whitebait, anchovies, carp (farmed) and mussels. Jeannette Longfield, the report’s editor, explains that the highest concentrations of omega 3 fats are found in sardines, pilchards and sprats. If you buy farmed fish, it is safer to buy organically farmed fish. Always ensure the fish comes from a sustainably managed source. The two major UK labels are the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) label and the Soil Association’s organically farmed label.
Additional information is provided on how to obtain omega 3 fats from sources other than fish. Oils from walnut, flaxseed (linseed) and hemp contain a vegetarian source of omega 3s. Cows fed on grass and clover (rather than commercial cattle feed) are higher in omega 3s, so buy organic milk and meat if you wish to obtain it from this source. Some chickens have been fed on flaxseed and lay eggs containing omega 3 type fats. You would need to eat 3 to 4 eggs to match the omega 3s in one serving of salmon.
“Like shooting fish in a barrel: the collapse of world fisheries and what we can do to prevent it from happening” at www.sustainweb.org/publications/downloads/shooting_fish.pdf
© 2011 Martina Watts MSc Nut Med, First Published Brighton Argus October 2005