Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Why don't fish have mercury issues?

Why don't fish suffer from mercury?

One of the most comprehensive studies ever done of the effect of eating fish was done in the Seychelles, an Island nation in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa. Over 1500 women and their children were studied over 25 years by a group of researchers from  universities and the Seychelles government. These were women who ate fish up to 10 times per week or more, and suffered no ill effects. And the more fish they ate, the smarter their kids were. Here is an excerpt from a recent article in netdoctor:

'Researchers at the University of Rochester, Ulster University and the Republic of Seychelles Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education analysed data from the Seychelles Child Development study.
The 89,000 residents of the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean eat ten times more fish than those in the US or Europe.
Over 1,500 mothers and children took part in the study. The researchers assessed child development through a series of communication, behaviour and motor skills tests from 20 months of age until the children were in their 20s.
Hair samples were also collected from the mothers during pregnancy so that the levels of mercury exposure could be measured.
No association was found between fish consumption among pregnant mothers and impaired childhood development.
However, the children of mothers with higher levels of omega-3 - the fatty acid found in fish - performed better on some tests than those whose mothers had low levels of omega-3.
Philip Davidson, lead researcher of the study, said: 'It appears that the relationship between fish nutrients and mercury may be far more complex than previously appreciated.
'These findings indicate that there may be an optimal balance between the different inflammatory properties of fatty acids that promote fetal development and that these mechanisms warrant further study.' '

In other words, eating lots of fish when you're pregnant is good for both the mother and her unborn baby. So why have there been so many scary articles about mercury in fish? The fish don't suffer from being exposed to the minute amounts of mercury in the environment, so why should we be so worried?

The big mercury poisoning scare started many decades ago when there was a huge industrial mercury spill off the coast of Japan. The fish were sickened, and so were the people who ate them. The big difference? The amounts of mercury were massive, too great for the fish to survive.

Scientists have long known that the small amount of environmental mercury that is absorbed by fish chemically combines with selenium in the fish's system, causing it to become non-detrimental to the fish. Many scientists also believe that it makes it non-detrimental to humans.

So why all the scare stories? The US Government, when setting standards for mercury, chose to use a study done on the Faeroe Islands near Scotland where the natives eat a lot of whale. Unlike fish, whales (mammals, not fish) live for decades, and store all kinds of nasty pollutants in their blubber, which these people ate. There wasn't any mercury in the fish they ate, only in the whale blubber, and yet this is the study that the politicians chose to use for setting standards for how much fish we should eat. The scientists wanted them to use the Seychelles Study, where the people actually ate fish all the time, but the pols picked the whale study.

So how much whale blubber do you eat?

Since the mercury in our oceans comes from industrial emissions, I find it somewhat strange that all the focus is on fish - surely these emissions are getting into all of our food, especially in areas where power plants are spewing it out all the time. Who is testing the beef and chicken for mercury? How about the food crops grown on farms near power plants and factories?

The cattle industry in the US has a great deal of political clout, much more than the seafood industry. I'm guessing that they help promote all the mercury-in-fish hype. If beef is good for you, why is it that in Japan, where heart disease was almost non-existent because of high fish consumption, became a growing problem when the western diet of red meat and processed foods was introduced after World War II? Heart disease is the biggest killer in the US, for both men and women - we could lower our medical costs and extend our lives if we ate like the ladies in the Seychelles. There have been no confirmed cases of mercury poisoning in the US, but there sure are a lot of heart attacks. Maybe we should eat more fish.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Why do so many people only eat wild caught fish?

What's the matter with farm raised fish?

For the most part, not much. I can't tell you how many times a week people walk into one of our stores and only want wild fish.
     My question to them: Where are you getting your wild beef? Your wild chicken?
     Fish is really the only food left that is harvested in the wild on a grand scale, and the resource is finite. In order to feed the billions of people on our planet, we need to manage our oceans and lakes responsibly. To do that and still feed fish to people, we need to raise some of it.
     Does it matter how that's done? Of course. There are some fish farming operations from whom we would never buy fish, and they're largely in Asia. Their fish pens are overcrowded, and they give the fish antibiotics to keep them from getting diseased. (Of course, a lot of cattle, hog and chicken farms do the same thing).
     We do business with fish farmers whom we trust. We've known some of them for decades -- most of the fresh trout in restaurants has been farm raised for ages, long before people started demanding nothing but wild fish.
     So where does all the scare mongering come from? Largely from studies we feel are funded by two groups you wouldn't expect to be on the same page - the beef industry and the wild salmon industry.
     Cattle farmers hate the idea of a protein source that grows so efficiently and is considered so much healthier than beef. It takes about 1 1/2 lbs of feed to make a pound of fish, about 15 lbs. of feed to make a pound of beef. I'd be threatened, too.
     Wild salmon costs a lot more than raised salmon, so you can see why salmon fishermen would want you to think it's bad for you - I'm pretty sure that they're the ones who started the rumors about farmed salmon being "dyed" - carotene is added to the diet of farmed fish, Vitamin A, the same thing that makes wild salmon pinkish, and carrots orange. It's not a dye, it's a vitamin.
     Many of us in the seafood business have a very strong desire to preserve the resource.  We don't sell endangered fish, like bluefin tuna, or caviar from endangered sturgeon. We support legal fisheries in many parts of the world, and don't always agree with those cards that the aquariums like to pass out -- they lump whole fish species into a category, even though that fish is perfectly plentiful from one source, not from another. Example: Icelandic cod. The Icelandic cod fishery is wonderfully managed, and the resource is not endangered, but the aquariums say don't eat Atlantic cod. How are the Icelandic fishermen supposed to support their families if no one will buy their fish?
     Yes, there are some fish farming operations that do not do a good job - we don't buy fish from them. This is why you should always know your fish monger. Because we deal directly with our suppliers, we always know where our fish comes from, both the raised and the wild. Most small fish markets will know a lot more about the source of their seafood than a big chain store, where someone in a distant office places the orders.
     Are you one of the "no farmed fish" brigade? If so, why?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Post Holiday Returns: The Gift of Girth

The over-indulgences of the holidays are in evidence when you step on the scale, or when it's hard to zip your pants zipper all the way to the top...there wasn't a holiday season in recent memory when I didn't step onto the bathroom scale with extreme trepidation.
     The antidote doesn't have to be overly painful - here are the ways I cope with the holiday "gift" of extra girth:

  1. Walk more - I love my FitBit, which lets me know how far I go every day - it inspires me to get up from the computer and walk around -- and when the weather is bad, I drive up to Northbrook Court and walk early in the morning. They open the doors around 6 am, and lots of people are in there walking in pairs or packs or on their own. Check with your local indoor malls - perhaps others do this as well. 
  2. Drink more water - it really helps lower your weight. I know several people who developed kidney stones in the past couple of months, and dehydration is a big contributing factor. Water helps your health in many ways! Don't buy the bottled stuff, use a reusable bottle from REI or LL Bean etc. and drink filtered water from the fridge or get one of those filters for the sink. Bottled water is like $8 - $15 per gallon - and you have to dispose of the bottle, preferably in a recycling bin. 
  3. Get rid of the remaining holiday chocolates and cookies when you've just eaten - toss 'em in the garbage when you're feeling full and are less tempted to eat them away. 
  4. Eat lighter - fish is a great lean protein source that can satisfy your hunger while helping you
    Baked salmon papillote ready to be opened and enjoyed
    shed the extra weight. I love Burhop's fresh papillotes, salmon wrapped in parchment paper with a variety of fresh vegetables. Only a tiny amount of olive oil is added, and the fish steams in the package, a very healthful way to prepare both the fish and the vegetables, which enhances and blends all the flavors.
Fish is a wonder food - it offers a host of trace minerals and important vitamins, the vital omega-3 fatty acids, and prepared properly it's great diet food.  Breaded fried fish, not so much, but baked, broiled or grilled fish is great for losing weight.
     My favorite preparations are simple - I bake my fish at 425 degrees for 10 minutes per inch of thickness - the Canadian cooking method. Good, fresh fish can be rubbed with a little olive oil and a squeeze of lemon, or if you like it a bit spicier, try a salt-free spice rub. (Salt makes you retain water - not good for losing weight). 
    Some low cal toppings that we offer and recommend with your fish include Pico de Gallo or Bruschetta, and our Lemon Dill Sauce - depending on where you are, any good fresh tomato or fruit-based salsa makes a good low or no fat topping for fish. 
     Whatever you do, start with REALLY FRESH FISH. Good quality fresh seafood will give you a much better chance at making a really good dinner. If the fish isn't fresh to start with, no cooking preparation is going to make it palatable. 
     Fill up on vegetables and a nice piece of fish, drink lots of water, and walk. How hard is that?