Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tip Ten: Go Fish

As the fields green up, there's an accompanying feeling of lightening. Moods, attitudes, and schedules stretch out their kinks and flex to accommodate a smile, or a bike ride instead of a nap.

For me, that has somewhat mystifyingly left me at odds with my usual diet. I eschew meat in favor of an orange, or asparagus. I load up on apples and cashews for snacks. I reach for Vino Verde, or Pellegrino, instead of Cabernet.

Fish jumps into this gap nicely. While it may be lighter it is a solid healthy choice, for fish is also loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, now the poster child for good fats.

According to a study from the Mayo Clinic: "Omega-3 fatty acids may decrease triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, boost immunity and improve arthritis symptoms, and in children may improve learning ability. Eating one to two servings a week of fish, particularly fish that's rich in omega-3 fatty acids, appears to reduce the risk of heart disease, particularly sudden cardiac death."

Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna and herring, seem to have the highest amounts of omega-3s. Saltwater fish in general have higher levels than freshwater fish, but some varieties of trout have relatively high levels as well. Wild fish have been shown to have higher levels of healthy Omega-3s than farmed fish, which have been shown to have higher levels of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats.

It's not just heart health that benefits. By strengthening insulin sensitivity, omega 3 fatty acids can decrease belly fat and build muscle, which in turn burns more calories. The US Army is currently studying whether supplementing soldiers' diets with fish oil capsules will improve their health, cognitive function and mood.

Of course, there is a downside to eating fish: industrial pollution in oceans, lakes and streams can infiltrate their food, causing toxins such as mercury, dioxins and PCBs to build up in the fish. The toxins are heat-stable, which means that no amount of cooking can decrease levels of toxicity. In fact, some preparations, such as frying, can make fish unhealthy.

To reap the benefits without the troubles, choose wild fish, when you can. And if you can't get fresh, well, don't fret. My friend Sharon, a writer, motorcycle mama and one of the most holistic people I know, once opened a can of salmon when a bunch of us were at her apartment talking writing. She mashed it with lemon and a dollop of mayonnaise, then hit it with salt and pepper. We ate it with forks. I recently opened a can of  Whole Foods brand wild red Alaskan salmon, and it was delicious -- rich, oily and not at all fishy. It was a great counterpoint to a citrusy salad, an easy lunch.

Canned salmon with arugula and red pepper

1/2 can wild salmon
1 T rice vinegar
wasabi (if you can't get fresh, load up on packets that come with sushi -- just one is generally enough to spice a dressing)
2 T orange juice
two handfuls of arugula
1/2 a red pepper
sea salt

Thinly slice red pepper and put over arugula on a plate. Toss OJ, wasabi and vinegar, add a sprinkle of brown sugar if you prefer sweet to tart. Add salmon to plate and douse all with dressing, season with salt to taste.


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