As a nation, we’re not as fishy as we used to be and that’s our nutritional loss. The Mediterranean diet has fresh fish at its heart and cuts heart disease as a result.
Whether it has fins or a shell and whether it’s from salt or fresh water, fish is much easier to digest than meat and it’s a nutritional powerhouse: fish and shellfish are high in protein, low in saturated fat, multi-vitamin rich, mineral abundant and oozing with heart-healthy, brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acid.
The NHS recommends that we tuck into at least two portions of fish a week, including one of oily fish. Choose fresh over frozen as it tends to contain less salt and steer clear of species under threat or caught by irresponsible methods (find information at Australia's Sustainable Seafood). Different species contain different levels of useful nutrients so eating a wider variety brings wider health benefits.
Let's not forget about the undeniable advantages of shellfish. A 100g (3oz) of prawns, for example, has 18 times less total fat than the equivalent serving of salmon. Most shellfish are low in calories and low (under 5%) in saturated fat. Indeed, many contain less than 1% – a dozen oysters, for example, have fewer than 100 calories and just 0.2% saturated fat. Here are three shell-on examples to inspire…
Of all shellfish, mussels have the highest level of omega-3, an essential fatty acid which reduces the risk of blood clots which, in turn, may lead to heart attack or stroke. In addition, omega-3’s anti-inflammatory properties may benefit conditions such as arthritis. Mussels are also high in: selenium, an antioxidant vital for a healthy immune system; iron, needed for effective red blood cell function; zinc, which supports reproductive and sexual function and vitamin A, in the form of retinol, for healthy eyes and improved night vision. These aquatic molluscs are a rich source of folic acid and vitamin B12, a lack of which may cause tiredness and confusion.
Prawns are especially rich in two vitamins: B12, important for the normal functioning of our brain and nervous system, and vitamin E, an antioxidant which helps to protect cell membranes – compared with beef and chicken, prawns contain almost 22 times more vitamin E than the former and 19 times more than the latter. Prawns are, again, a good source of protein and selenium but also of phosphorus. All shellfish contain phosphorus and we need it to help build strong bones and teeth as well as to release energy from the food that we eat. A 100g (3oz) serving of prawns contains a mere 76 calories, 0.2g saturated fat and zero sugar.
Oysters are particularly high in protein and in particular, the amino acid tyrosine, known for its mood-enhancing qualities. This, together with oysters being high in zinc plus the energising vitamins A, C and B12 has established the oyster’s reputation as an aphrodisiac. In addition, being a good source of calcium, swallowing this pretty, pearly bivalve also helps to build and strengthen our bones.
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