8. Be Wary of Seafood Caught by Friends and Family
There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of catching, cleaning, and cooking your own fish. Often, growing your own fruits and vegetables, hunting, and fishing are all great, sustainable ways to feed your family. Unfortunately, the pollution found in many freshwater fishing areas like lakes, streams, ponds, and rivers makes consuming these fish risky if you aren’t sure how clean the water is. Pollution in these freshwater areas comes from storm runoff that drains into the water, which might contain chemicals, as well as contamination from factories. Farming is another source of pollution, since runoff contains pesticides and nutrients like phosphorous that are used in fertilizer. These remove oxygen from the water and make fish absorb more toxins as a result.
One resource that is helpful for finding out which wild caught fish are safe to eat is this list of advisories and contacts for the game and fishing industry. These advisories are issued when fish is known to have a high level of mercury or other contaminants. While you don’t have to avoid this seafood completely, you should limit yourself to one 3-4 ounce serving of these fish. Some of the most common fish you’ll find on this advisory list include larger carp, trout, perch, and catfish. Something else to keep in mind is that bigger fish have been alive longer, so they often contain more toxins than smaller fish. In cases where this is no recommendation, sticking to one serving per week is safest.
9. Buy Frozen or Canned When Needed to Make Fish More Accessible
Even though certain foods like fruits and vegetables can lose a little of their nutritional value by freezing them, the same isn’t true with fish. Fish is generally frozen while it’s still fresh. This locks in vitamins and minerals, preserves the texture of the protein, and ensures you’re still getting all those healthy fats. According to the National Fisheries Institute, frozen seafood is just as nutritional as fresh seafood. Buying fish frozen has advantages because you can buy it in bulk, it’s easier to store, and it helps you keep your freezer stocked even when fish is out of season. Additionally, you can save a little money by buying fish when it is in season and more affordable and keep it frozen until you’re ready to eat it.
When buying frozen seafood, look for ice crystals on the fish or in the packaging. Ice forms when food has been frozen for a long time. It could also indicate that the fish thawed a little and then it was refrozen. You should also avoid buying seafood if there’s damage to the packaging. Crushed or ripped corners or other damage could mean the fish has been exposed to air (and bacteria). Finally, be sure that the fish still smells fresh (rather than rancid or like ammonia) when you thaw it before cooking. It should also be frozen solid. Fish that is bendable when it’s frozen doesn’t have the same freshness or nutritional value and it could indicate that the fish has been compromised.
Tuna is one of those fish that is available fresh or canned. The kind of tuna you eat (and where it lives) also really affects tuna’s mercury levels and how often it can be eaten safely. When it comes to canned tuna, it’s already cooked and can be used in pasta dishes, mixed into tuna salad, or used in a tuna patty. Light tuna (also called skipjack) is the best kind to eat because of its smaller size and low mercury content. Canned albacore or white tuna is still good because of it’s nutrients, but you should limit your intake to once or twice a week.
Fresh tuna steaks are another way that you can eat tuna. Generally, these are seasoned or marinated and then pan seared or grilled for just a few minutes. Most people eat them at a medium to medium-rare level of doneness. Unfortunately, the fish most commonly used for tuna steaks are ahi tuna, yellowfin tuna, bigeye tuna, or albacore. These varieties are all high in mercury. You should also avoid bluefin tuna for sustainability reasons. It’s considered the most endangered according to the World Wildlife Fund, and is also overfished in the Atlantic ocean. Instead, opt for Ahi tuna steaks but try to eat them occasionally because of the mercury content that comes from tuna being such a large fish with a long lifespan.
For people who don’t like fish, cod might be the best choice for getting a healthy dose of protein, Omega-3s, and other nutrients. Cod has a very mild flavor it’s a popular choice, especially since it’s found in many fast food chain fish sandwiches including those at McDonald’s and Arby’s. While the fish sandwich there is fried and not necessarily the most healthy, there are other ways you can eat cod as well. It tastes great baked in the oven with a light coating or it can be pan seared and topped with a sauce.
The delicate, white meat of cod makes it a popular choice for yummy dishes like fish tacos, too. Plus, it’s easy to dress up with your favorite seasonings or sauce. In addition to healthy fats and having around 15-20 grams of protein in a single serving, cod is rich in B vitamins that are important for energy and metabolism. You won’t get as many Omega-3s as you do in some varieties of fatty fish, but cod makes up for that with it’s low mercury content. Research shows its still great for heart health, plus it is full of all kinds of trace minerals that you need to keep your body functioning at its best.
12. Skip Fried Seafood in Favor of Healthier Options
Adding breadcrumbs, flour, or a batter to seafood and frying it is just one way that you can enjoy some yummy seafood. Unfortunately, fried foods come with their own risks because of their high levels of unhealthy fats. These unhealthy fats stick to the walls of your artery. It’s no surprise, therefore, that eating fried foods has been linked to a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Fried fish and other seafood also loses some of it’s nutritional value when fried. Fat-soluble nutrients like healthy fats are the most likely to be lost since it seeps out in the oil during the frying process. This means if you’re frying fish, you’re also likely cancelling out all the heart-healthy benefits.
Even though everyone loves brown, crispy food, there are plenty of alternative ways to cook seafood. Plus, many types of seafood have a more mellow flavor that pairs well with various spices. Seafood with firmer flesh like shrimp and certain types of fish can be grilled to impart flavor. Other times, searing in olive oil, baking in the oven, or steaming the seafood works well. If you are worried about flavor or the seafood drying out, marinating is another option. For people who are new to eating seafood, consider looking up some recipes that include some flavors you enjoy and give them a try. Practice makes perfect when it comes to cooking!
13. Choose Sustainable Fish to Avoid Damaging the Ecosystem
One of the biggest threats to fish in the industry is over-fishing. Think of lakes, rivers, oceans, and other waterways as you would any other ecosystem. For all the fish species to thrive, there needs to be balance. Over-fishing disrupts this balance and it creates problems in the future. After all, if a species is over-fished, there won’t be nearly as many during breeding season to re-populate the ecosystem. It can even disrupt other species that are part of their food chain, whether it’s small fish or algae that overruns the area because they aren’t being eaten or a bigger animal that preys on them having to find something else to eat.
In 1997, the Marine Stewardship Council was created to promote sustainable fishing. They monitor fishing practices and award MSC certification to the companies that fish in a way that doesn’t deplete or harm the environment or seafood populations. Another alternative to buying sustainable seafood is buying farm-raised fish. Farm-raised fish are bred with the purpose of being sold for food. This reduces some of the strain on fish from natural waterways by meeting consumer demand without disrupting the ecosystem. Even then, however, you should be aware of marine fisheries and their fish-raising practices before buying. Some use antibiotics and feed fish foods like corn and grain, which decreases their nutritional benefits.
14. Eat Live, Fresh Shellfish and Store Fresh Fish Properly
When buying live shellfish like lobster, crabs, mussels, oysters, and clams, it’s important that you select them while they are still alive. As soon as shellfish die, they quickly start spoiling. Eating spoiled or improperly prepared seafood leads to foodborne illness, so it’s important to choose them while they are still alive. For shelled fish like mussels or clams, the best way to determine how fresh they are is a “tap test”. The tap test involves tapping on the outside of the shell with your finger. Live shellfish close their shell when tapped. You should also discard any that are broken or cracked. For live crabs and lobsters, there should be apparent leg movement if they are still alive.
With live and fresh seafood, it’s best to cook it and eat it not long after you bring it home. Otherwise, it rapidly starts going rancid and growing bacteria. Seafood that is going to be consumed within two days can be refrigerated, but it must be kept at temperatures below 40 degrees. Putting it on ice is another option as long as a consistent, cool temperature can be maintained. If you are not going to consume it, then wrap the seafood in plastic, foil, or moisture-proof paper and freeze. You’ll want to wrap it tightly to avoid air getting inside and causing freezer burn. Freezer burn negatively affects the texture and the flavor of meats.
It’s also important to follow safe cooking and thawing guidelines when consuming seafood. Seafood quickly grows bacteria when it sits at room temperature. Additionally, raw fish or fish that has not been properly cooked could contain parasites or cause foodborne illness. While there are some types of fish that people consume raw or undercooked, like in the case of sushi or medium-rare tuna, it’s important to note that these are considered sushi-grade fish. There are different standards because the fish is not being cooked all the way through. The food is prepared and processed differently to reduce the chance of parasites, however, consuming any kind of undercooked fish comes with this risk.
When thawing fish, never make the kitchen mistake of thawing at room temperature. Instead, thaw fish in the fridge overnight when possible. If you can’t, put it in a bag and submerge it in cold water or use the defrost setting. If defrosting, only warm it until the fish becomes slightly pliable and is still frozen. To kill bacteria and parasites, fish should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, check the flesh of the seafood. Fish flesh becomes clear and flakes easily with a fork. Shellfish like clams, oysters, and mussels all open and you should discard those that don’t. Finally, the flesh of scallops, lobster, crab, and shrimp become firm and clear when cooked.