Something’s Fishy About Our Fish…

by Coach Tim

Omega 3. Fish Oil. Lean Protein. These are all things we preach as part of healthy eating habits. Which can lead to a seemingly very obvious solution: I should eat more fish!

And you should, probably.

The reason fish flesh is so desirable is its potential for very high Omega 3 fatty acid content with virtually no other fats present. As a protein source, it is hard to beat the health benefits that can be found in a quality seafood source. But here’s the thing: not all fish is that great for you. The quality of nutrition of fish flesh can vary greatly depending on the fish’s species and how they were allowed to grow.

Among the most Omega-3 rich sources of fish are wild-caught, coldwater, saltwater fish such as salmon, herring and some tunas. Not coincidentally, these are a few of the most popular fish available. The “wild-caught” part is especially important, though. As producers seek to provide lower cost sources of fish, the quality begins to degrade. In fish farming operations, the fish no longer have abundant access to the plankton, insects, algae and other small fishes that they would eat in the wild. Instead, they are provided with a steady supply of concentrated pelletized feed – containing fish meal, algae, and grain – designed to make the fish grow as rapidly as possible. Much like we see with grain fed livestock, this rapid growth and grain-based nutrition leads to poor Omega-3 conversion into the animal’s flesh. Depending on the location of the fish farm, there may also be concerns over the quality of waters it is kept in, which may lead to undesirable toxins lingering in the consumed flesh.

Other lighter fish, such as tilapia and catfish are very popular because of their mild flavor and flaky texture. Being fresh water fish, they are easier to harvest as well which makes them a more inexpensive product. These types of fish, however, are also naturally much lower in Omega-3 content (and fat content overall) than the cold water ocean dwellers. Take that, coupled with the fact that tilapia in particular are very easy to farm as they reproduce rapidly and grow extremely well in a grain-dominant diet, means that many of these sources can be almost completely devoid of any Omega-3 content. Much like salmon, the farms that imported fish are raised in may be rather unregulated. Eastern Asia raised catfish (sometimes marketed as “Swai” or “Basa”) and tilapia in particular should be avoided.

So what should you go for?

Well, the best bets are going to be your wild-caught salmons and herring. These, naturally, will also be among the most expensive fish you can find. Farm raised salmon can be found at more reasonable prices, but it should be understood that the Omega-3 content – while still relatively high compared to most of our common livestock options – will be lower than the wild caught. Look for either domestically raised or possibly raised in a Scandinavian country.

I, personally, am a huge fan of canned chum salmon. It’s wild caught and still high in the nutrients we’re looking for. Since the fish are rather small they are seen as undesirable for fillet sales which makes it rather cheap.
And this all isn’t to say that if you enjoy a fish taco or the occasional fried catfish you should run screaming in the other direction. Tilapia from a trusted source is still lean protein that can be prepared quite deliciously. Just know that as a nutrient source it is essentially expensive chicken.