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April 1999 Issue
Good and Good for You
by Ronda L. Halpin
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If you're fishing for something that's good for the heart physically and emotionally, you may want to look at the value of fish.

Besides being economical and easy to prepare, fish and seafood are easy to digest, low in sodium and high in protein, and contain far fewer calories and less fat than comparable servings of red meats. Fish truly is lean cuisine!

Recent medical studies indicate that a meal or two of fish each week may also help reduce blood cholesterol levels, a leading cause of atherosclerosis, commonly called hardening of the arteries. Atherosclerosis is a major factor in the development of coronary heart disease, America's biggest killer disease.

Low in Calories

    Fish offers high-quality protein with fewer calories than a similar-sized portion of meat. For example, both haddock and ground beef are about 18% protein. But the haddock will have only about 22 calories per ounce, while regular ground beef has about 80 calories per ounce.

    The total number of calories in a seafood meal depends on your choice of seafood and your method of preparing it. A 3.5-ounce serving of perch, for example, has far fewer calories than an equivalent serving of Chinook salmon or sturgeon caviar. Also, frying will add more calories to a serving of fish than will broiling, poaching or steaming it. That beer-battered fish fry isn't going to be as low-cal as the same serving of fish that's been broiled.

    Condiments can easily add a lot of calories to your meal if you're not careful. Try to replace traditional accompaniments like butter and tartar sauce with just a few fresh herbs--such as sweet basil, curry powder or paprika--or a squeeze of lemon or lime juice to enhance the delicate flavors of fish or seafood.

Nutritional

    Fish and fish oils have been gaining acclaim in recent scientific studies that have shown they have many benefits to human nutrition and general health. As a result, doctors and nutritionists nationwide are beginning to recommend more fish and seafood in the diets of their patients.

    While many aspects of fish and nutrition are still under investigation, much of the current research effort is focused on the various kinds of lipids in fish, particularly the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which are unique to fish and fish oils. Trout and salmon in particular are high in omega-3 fatty acids.

    Recent research indicates a diet containing fish or fish oils rich in omega-3 fatty acids has beneficial effects on such health problems as hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), high levels of cholesterol (blood lipids) and high blood pressure (hypertension), and perhaps even arthritis.

    Atherosclerosis, hypertension and obesity are the three major diet-related factors involved in an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease, the cause of nearly half of all deaths in the United States today. On average, one in five Americans has a problem with atherosclerosis or high blood lipids. A diet generally high in fat content seems to increase blood cholesterol, and a diet high in saturated fats increases blood cholesterol in some people. Seafood is generally low in cholesterol and fats, and 60 to 80% of the fat in seafood consists of polyunsaturated fatty acids, like those in vegetable oils.

    More than 60 million Americans suffer from hypertension, and restriction of the amount of sodium in the diet is often part of the treatment for it. Another important aspect of the dietary management of hypertensive patients is maintaining their potassium levels when certain diuretics are part of the treatment. Freshwater and saltwater species of fish alike are both low in sodium and good sources of potassium. However, be aware that the use of brine in processing pickled, smoked and some frozen fish and seafood products can increase the sodium content more than threefold: Read your package labels carefully.

    Lemon and lime juice are good substitutes for salt in seafood dishes, and tarragon, basil, paprika, garlic, mushrooms and onions all enhance the flavor of seafood dishes without raising the sodium or caloric content significantly.

Economical

    Besides tasting good and being good for you, fish and seafood have two other special attractions as home menu items: They are quick and easy to prepare.

    Generally speaking, any method used to prepare meat dishes can also be used with seafood, including baking, broiling, grilling and frying. Unlike many meats, however, fish and other seafood do not require a lot of cooking to make them tender. Fish steaks and small whole fish can be broiled, steamed, poached or fried in only a few minutes.

    And while fish and seafood generally cost more per pound than red meats, there is little or no bone and fat to trim away and less shrinkage during cooking, so less is wasted.

Practical Tips

    Never buy fish with a strong odor ­ fish should have a fresh, mild, sea-breeze scent. Choose fish with moist flesh and translucent skin. Fish should have clear eyes and bright, unblemished skin.

    Refrigerate your seafood purchases as quickly as possible. Fish may be safely kept at a temperature below 40 degrees and cooked to temperatures above 140 degrees. Store fresh fish in its original wrapper in the coldest part of the refrigerator. If seafood will not be used within one to two days of purchase, wrap the fish (still in its original container) in plastic wrap and freeze it. For best quality, use frozen seafood within 3­6 months.

    When preparing fish and seafood, wash your hands well and often. Always use clean utensils and preparation areas and never mix raw seafood and its contact surfaces with cooked food. When cooking fish, use the 10-minute rule: cook fish for 10 minutes for each inch of thickness.

The recipes included in this article cover a wide range of flavors, preparation techniques, and types of seafood. Here's our special seafood menu:

And now, let's go fishing! Here's to a healthy heart.
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