If you’re like me, you would love to eat sushi every night of the week if you could. Unfortunately, as college students we are hamstrung by our ever-thinning wallets and, naturally, for our own safety, we want to avoid eating cheap raw fish. On top of that, concerns about the health benefits and negatives of fish are continuing to draw the attention of the public. If we lived in the 1800s, we could fish for ourselves and health risks and price would be of no concern. Unfortunately, the Industrial Revolution hit America much before we did, and now we are paying the price.
The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fish per week. They cite the high protein and low-fat content of fish. A 3-ounce serving of salmon, which is approximately the size of a deck of playing cards, contains about 20 grams of protein, 7 grams of fat and 160 calories. Most fish are extremely low in saturated fat, and high in good omega-3 fatty acids, which have been proven to help protect the heart in numerous ways. Fish is also loaded with tons of good vitamins and minerals. Best of all, fish is absolutely delicious and can be prepared in enough ways to never lose its appeal.
A 2006 study at the Harvard School of Public Health showed the consumption of any kind of fish, farmed or wild, might reduce the risk of mortality by 17 percent! And yet a raging debate has taken place in recent years over the risks of eating farmed fish instead of wild fish. It is difficult to generalize about all farmed fish, because every farm has different practices, but certain farms definitely raise their fish in a way that could potentially pose a health risk to us. These farms give antibiotics to fish and feed them food they are not meant to naturally consume. As a result, they are forced to add artificial coloring to their skin, because a fish’s natural diet will pigment their skin. Fish farms are often overcrowded and disease-ridden. However, it must be noted certain farms are very careful with their fish and do a phenomenal job of replicating the conditions fish encounter in the wild.
Luckily for us, we live right by the Santa Barbara Harbor, and wild fish is not hard to come by. Wild fish are said to be healthier because they are raised in their natural environment and avoid the harmful effects of farms. However, even our ocean water is contaminated with dioxins and PCBs. So while finding that perfectly uncontaminated and healthy fish is simply an insurmountable task for the majority of us, it’s still best to go for the wild fish, even if it costs a couple extra bucks.
What about mercury, you ask? The media has been relentless in pounding home the idea that the mercury content in fish could be very dangerous. The official stance of the government, and any reasonable person, is that a high amount of mercury can certainly be dangerous – especially to pregnant women and young children. However, eating fish in moderation will only expose you to trace amounts of mercury, not levels that would pose a health risk. Abstaining from fish simply because of the mercury content will deprive your body of many wonderful nutrients. The key is to eat the right fish in moderation.
The easiest way to determine which fish to eat and which to avoid is to base it on the size of the fish. Typically, the larger the fish, the higher the amount of mercury it contains. Unfortunately for most Americans, the most consumed fish – and most delicious, in my opinion – is tuna, which happens to have one of the highest mercury contents. However, certain kinds of tuna are better than others. Salmon is one of the fish lowest in mercury, and also one of the highest in omega-3s. Mackerel and trout are both very good options as well.
Try grilling your fish with some fresh herbs and lemon juice, or making fish burgers. Have it raw with some soy sauce and steamed rice. If you have the funds and want to make the effort, opt for the smaller, wild-caught fish. Regardless, the lesson to be gleaned from the debate is simple: Eat fish. Farmed, wild, small, big – it’s all better than not eating fish at all.