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Shelly Barnes: Let’s go fishing for health benefits, improvements

Shelly Barnes • Updated Nov 15, 2017 at 7:00 PM

If you are a typical American, you will only consume 15 pounds of fish during the next year, compared to 246 pounds of meat and poultry. Yet, fish is a great source of lean protein, along with vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.  

These fatty acids are essential to the proper functioning of our bodies, and our bodies do not produce them, so we need to include them in our diet. There are several types of omega-3 fatty acids, but two crucial ones – EPA and DHA – are primarily found in fish. All fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, but they are especially high in fatty fish, including salmon, trout, sardines, herring, canned mackerel and canned light tuna. 

While fish and shellfish are generally low in saturated fat, the method you use to prepare it can add extra fat and calories. A 3-ounce serving of catfish, breaded and deep fried, contains 195 calories and 11 grams of fat or 17 percent of daily value. If you cook that same 3-ounce serving with dry heat, baked or broiled, you reduce the calories to 129 and 7 grams of fat or 10 percent of daily value. While fried fish is a Southern staple, baked, broiled or grilled fish is excellent. Try serving it with lemon or cocktail sauce instead of tartar sauce or butter, for a tasty and healthy main dish.

Planked fish is a popular way of grilling fish. An untreated cedar plank is soaked in water, then charred on the grill on one side. The plank is turned over so the skin side of a fillet of fish is placed on the charred side and then grilled until the fish is cooked through. It lends a slightly smoky flavor and the fish doesn’t fall through the grates or stick to the grill.  

Another good way to cook fish is to place a 6-ounce fillet in a parchment paper bag with vegetables and seasonings such as fresh herbs, spinach, green onions, lemon slices, etc. Fold up the bag and bake on a cookie sheet at 400 degrees for about 18 minutes. Fish will dry out quickly, so look for the flesh to just turn opaque and flake with a fork.

This month, branch out from fried catfish and try a variety of delicious baked, grilled, poached and steamed fish.

In terms of fish safety, mercury is a naturally occurring metal that can become concentrated in long-lived fish. Some types of fish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm unborn babies and young children. For most people, this is not a health concern. However, women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children are advised to avoid eating king mackerel, marlin, shark, swordfish, tilefish and tuna steaks. They should also choose canned light tuna over white or albacore tuna.  

Several of the most commonly eaten fish are low in mercury, including catfish, cod, Pollock, salmon, tilapia and trout. Other contaminants such as PCBs tend to concentrate in the fat of fish. To greatly reduce the risk of these, cut off the skin and fat, including the dark fatty parts on the sides, belly and back and don’t use the drippings for sauces. Overall, the health benefits of fish outweigh the risks, so follow these guidelines and enjoy. For more information, visit epa.gov/hg/advisories.htm.

As for choosing your fish, keep in mind that fish have different flavors, textures and best methods of preparation. If you are new to fish, try a mildly flavored fish and work your way up to full-flavored fish. Also keep in mind that saltwater fish such as cod, flounder, grouper, etc. have larger and fewer bones than freshwater fish such as trout, catfish, etc., so they are easier to remove.

Mild fish include cod, flounder, grouper, haddock, halibut, monkfish, orange roughy, sole, snapper and tilapia.

Moderate fish include catfish, Mahi Mahi, perch, pink and chum salmon, shark, black sea bass, striped bass, rainbow trout and walleye.

Full-flavored fish include amberjack, bluefish, Chilean sea bass, Atlantic, sockeye and king salmon, swordfish and tuna.

Tandoori-style Halibut

Tandoori is a popular Indian dish that consists of roasted meat, usually chicken, prepared with a marinade of yogurt and spices. The name comes from the type of cylindrical clay oven, a tandoor, in which the dish is traditionally prepared. Here a flavorful tandoori-style marinade is applied to fish and broiled.

• 1-cup non-fat plain yogurt.

• juice from ½ lemon.

• 2 tablespoons of grated fresh ginger root.

• 1 yellow onion, finely chopped.

• 2 cloves garlic, minced.

• 1 teaspoon ground cumin.

• 1 teaspoon ground turmeric.

• ½-teaspoon ground coriander.

• ½-teaspoon ground allspice.

• ¼-teaspoon cayenne pepper.

• ¼-teaspoon salt.

• 4 halibut fillets, skin removed.

• 2 cups cooked brown rice.

In a small skillet, combine cumin, turmeric, coriander, allspice, cayenne pepper and salt. Toast dry spices in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant, careful not to burn them. Let it cool slightly. In a shallow glass or ceramic dish just large enough to hold the halibut fillets in a single layer, stir together the yogurt, lemon juice, ginger root, onion, garlic and toasted spices. Add halibut fillets and turn to coat with marinade. 

Meanwhile, preheat broiler. Line a baking sheet with foil. Remove halibut fillets from marinade and place in single layer on foil. Place under broiler and cook, turning once, until opaque throughout, about 8-10 minutes. Serve over brown rice.

UT Extension provides a gateway to the University of Tennessee as the outreach unit of the Institute of Agriculture. With an office in every Tennessee county, UT Extension delivers educational programs and research-based information to citizens throughout the state and provides equal opportunities in all programming and employment. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issues at the local, state and national levels.  

Through its mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions. ag.tennessee.edu.

For more information on this or other family and consumer sciences-related topics, contact Shelly Barnes, family and consumer sciences Extension agent for UT Extension in Wilson County. Barnes may be reached at sbarnes@utk.edu or 615-444-9584.

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