Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Fishing Expedition

     I grew up Catholic, and back then Catholics were not allowed to eat meat on Fridays. Honestly, I forget why. But in our house it meant that my mother served fish every Friday night. She wasn’t a particularly good cook, my mother, so we had fish sticks or fish cakes from the freezer, or frozen scallops, or some limp white pasty material covered in breadcrumbs. Every once in a while we got swordfish. Actually, I even as a kid I thought swordfish was pretty good, grilled with lemon, butter and capers.

     My mother was Catholic, but my father was not. He didn’t have to eat fish on Fridays, and sometimes he'd get a hamburger instead. But this would raise a ruckus among us four suddenly rebellious kids, so it didn't happen often. Besides, my dad was the smart one in the family. And he would tell us that fish is brain food. It makes you smart. And in his mind, being smart is about the best quality you could find in a human being.

     How smart we all became is up for debate. But whatever intellectual failings we have, it isn’t for lack of fish.

     Now that I've grown up, I actually like seafood. Or, most of it. I can't quite stomach squid or eel or catfish (can anybody?). But I like lobster and shrimp, flounder and cod and snapper and tuna and tilapia. And now I've found out that my dad was right. I read in the Tufts University “Health & Nutrition Letter” that at least in certain circumstances, seafood is indeed brain food.

     Researchers from Tufts University, in a nine-year study of close to 500 older adults, found that those consuming at least three servings of fish a week were at significantly lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. And studies from the Rush University Memory and Aging Project concluded that people who “consumed fish once a week or more had a 60 percent less risk of Alzheimer’s disease compared with those who rarely or never ate fish,” according to researcher Martha Clare Morris.

     You do have to be cognizant of possible allergic reactions. I was once at a Christmas party, scarfing down the shrimp cocktail, when I broke out into hives. It turns out I have a mild allergy to shrimp, and apparently an allergic reaction to shellfish is not all that uncommon. I took some Benadryl and was fine, but I have to watch the amount of shrimp I eat -- and make sure to pair it with other foods.

     Also, the levels of mercury found in seafood can sometimes be a concern. The Rush University researchers did find that those who consumed a lot of fish had higher levels of mercury in their brains. But in older adults higher mercury levels were "not associated with any of the neuropathologies associated with dementia."

     Young children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as women intending to become pregnant, are still advised to limit their consumption of fish high in mercury – especially tilefish, shark, swordfish, mackerel and white (albacore) tuna. But according to this research, for older adults the benefits of seafood far outweigh the risks from mercury. And the benefits are not limited to the brain. For example, the American Heart Association also advises regularly consuming seafood -- at least two meals a week.

     It seems that fish oil or fish extract does not offer the same benefits as consuming real fish. One five-year trial of more than 3000 participants reported no benefit from supplements. Apparently the process of how fish benefits our brains and our bodies is more complicated than just delivering a few pills from a bottle.

     Once again science has confirmed something our parents -- and apparently the Catholic church -- knew all along. So I try to eat plenty of fish. I'm just careful about the shrimp. And still avoid those frozen fish sticks.


DJan said...

Now that I live in the Pacific Northwest, I consume plenty of fish, mostly salmon, which is available fresh or frozen year round. It's the only one I enjoy, other than a little tuna now and then. When I lived in Colorado, inland, I was leery of fish. Glad to know it's really brain food and good for us old folks. :-)

Terri @ Coloring Outside the Lines said...

I've often wondered about the fish oil vs eating real fish benefits. My husband takes the pills, but I would rather eat the fish.

Anonymous said...

Good to know about the benefits of eating fish on a regular basis. I try to eat salmon at least once a week.

Anonymous said...

If fish is brain food, Eskimos must be geniuses?

Think about that.

Ditto here on the shrimp AND lobster.
Be very careful. The iodides build up in your system. Last meal I had with shrimp was almost my last. Had to be rushed to the hospital as my tongue swelled and breathing became difficult. Benedryl did nothing!

Get an epipen from your doc just to stay safe.

Carole said...

I love grilled salmon. Make my own dill sauce: mayo, lots of dill, a little lemon juice and salt to taste. I remember canned salmon from my childhood; not good!

Interesting about the research. I always wondered about the risk of mercury versus the benefits of fish. Now I know!

Anonymous said...

I eat all sorts of seafood with the exception of salmon. Growing up Catholic meant lots of salmon patties and salmon balls on many Fridays. Worst Friday meal ever. Even mac 'n cheese with tuna and peas was better. In any case, I haven't had salmon since 1966 when the ban was lifted. The other slight exception is.....I like all of my sushi fried to a crispy, golden brown outside.

Wisewebwoman said...

I'm lucky in that I live on an amazing fresh fish environment right on the edge of the Atlantic. I've eaten fish 3 times already this week.

Anonymous said...

We didn't eat meat on Fridays, because Jesus was crucified on a Friday. It was a mark of respect. David and I eat lots of fish. I almost never cook red meat. We had real scallops for our lunch today, not those oversized cookie cutter things supermarkets sell as scallops which are really cut from the wings of rays, which are then tossed back into the sea to die.
Tuna is good on crackers as a snack. I love Calamari (squid) AND dislike Tilapia (too bland), although I fix it once a week for David. Catfish...it's a southern thing. As for Cod, I eschew it on environmental grounds, and I cant eat lobsters anymore...they have a face.

Stephen Hayes said...

I've stopped taking fish-oil tablets for the very reason you mentioned. I also like seafood but all the mercury is troublesome. I also love raw tuna, especially in Japanese food, but the oceans are running out of them and I'm feeling guilty and cutting back.

Celia said...

Trying to up my fish intake. Used to live in Seattle and ate lots of fresh fish, got spoiled and here in the inland NW I cast a "fish eye" on what shows up in the stores. Youngest son does fish and shares his catch. I, too gave up fish oil by pill.

Olga Hebert said...

I do eat plenty of fish. My parents always said it was brain food too, but I just like it.

Snowbrush said...

I try to stick to cold water fish and am a major lover of sardines. Since my wife isn't fond of fish, canned sardines enable me to get what I want while she doesn't get what she doesn't want.

Anonymous said...

Growing up catholic I so hated Fridays, but when my Mom was alive she made the best white fish dishes my dad had no clue after she passed from this earth..I adore salmon and fish from the sea, living in the pacific northwest Washington state we go to the coast in a tiny cabin we make the best salmon, crab and shrimp dishes and we bake clams and mussels on the fire we have no matter the weather..it is just what we do here, it is cheap gleamed from the sea all of it..yummy for the tummy and all that..If seafood is prepared properly no need to worry about anything and clams here razor clams are hard to get and we fry them up and make delish chowder. We live in paradise on the coast unfortunately we live inland and this weekend it should be about 100 degrees YIKES, we are heading for the coast and cabin and many of our friends have wonderful huge motorhomes and we can bunk there they are bigger and nicer than our tiny 1205 sq. ft home we love it..No reason not to eat fish!

Janette said...

Thanks for the reminder. We need to get back into the habit of eating fresh fish. Tides are rising and fishing is good! Love summer!