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“What fish should I eat that’s good for me and good for the planet?” Author and fisherman Paul Greenberg spent a year eating seafood for breakfast, lunch and dinner in an attempt to find out. Paul journeys to Alaska in this excerpt from “The Fish on My Plate.”
“The Fish on My Plate” premieres Tuesday, April 25th from 10 p.m. EST / 9 p.m. CST on PBS and online: http://to.pbs.org/2nezen3
Watch video at You Tube (7:18 minutes) . . . . .
4 cups packed, pre-washed baby spinach
4 large field tomatoes, halved crosswise, seeds scooped out to create bowls
2 (6 oz) cans wild tuna packed in water, drained
2 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 Tbsp plain yogurt (Greek or regular)
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp capers, finely chopped, or 1 dill pickle, finely chopped
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Asiago cheese or grated aged cheddar
2 Tbsp minced fresh chives
Makes 4 servings.
Source: Alive magazine
Natalie Jacewicz wrote . . . . . .
Facts about the virtues of eating fish can be slippery. On the one hand, fish provide protein and omega-3 fatty acids, the substance in fish oil supplements, which is thought to boost cognitive health. Plus, unlike cows, fish don’t belch vast amounts of the greenhouse gas methane into the air. So, fish should be good for your health and the environment. But the science of omega-3 benefits is far from settled, and as fish farming grows to keep up with global demand, the industry is raising new questions about environmental sustainability.
New York Times bestselling author and avid fisherman Paul Greenberg wanted to learn more about how eating fish can change human health and the world’s marine environments. He ate fish every day for a year to see how it would affect his health and traveled around the world to learn more about the challenges of fish farming. His experience is captured in a FRONTLINE documentary called The Fish on My Plate airing Tuesday. (You can also watch it online.)
We watched the film and talked with Greenberg about what he learned while making this documentary. The conversation is edited for clarity and concision.
As a fisherman who enjoys catching food from the wild, do you think we need fish farming?
If everyone’s going to be a vegan, no, we don’t need fish farming. If we want to have animal protein in our lives, then yes, I think we do need it. People often compare wild fish to farmed fish, but what we should really be doing is comparing fish to other forms of protein. Because things like beef really are a tremendous burden on the planet in terms of resources, we’re never going to get to the place where everybody on the planet can eat beef. But I do think we’ll get to a place where everybody can eat mussels.
Only eating wild fish doesn’t work with the equation right now. We’re catching 80-90 million metric tons of wild fish per year, and that’s not going to meet the protein needs of the world, plus it’s putting a lot of pressure on fish populations. I’d rather see that need met through aquaculture [fish farming] than through more beef, pigs or chickens.
What makes a fish a good candidate for aquaculture?
Some criteria are a general adaptability to confinement, a resistance to disease, the ability to produce a lot of offspring, and fast growth. And you see fish with these traits rising to the top of fish farming. Take tilapia. It grows very fast, from an egg to an adult in nine months, whereas a salmon can take 2-3 years.
That said, people like some fish more than others. So there are efforts in aquaculture to tame certain fish [like salmon] because there’s a market for it, not because they’re the best suited for farming.
The film shows that fish farming is far from perfect. What are the biggest challenges facing fish farming?
It’s what the farmed fish eat and where they live.
We tend to prefer carnivorous fish like salmon, and they like to eat other fish. So roughly 20 million metric tons per year — a quarter to a fifth of the global catch — goes into catching fish like anchovies that are ground up and fed to other fish. Salmon farming has become more efficient over the years through selective breeding and improved farming techniques. It used to take six pounds of wild fish to produce one pound of farmed salmon; now it takes less than two pounds of wild fish. But at the same time, the amount of farmed salmon that we’re growing is increasing, so the pressure on these small wild fish continues.
This problem is being worked out in techniques using other food sources, like fishery byproducts that would have been thrown out anyway, algae, or soldier flies, for example, to make fish feed.
What’s the problem with where fish farms are located?
This is a thornier issue. Any time you aggregate large amounts of livestock in an area, you’re going to attract disease. In the case of salmon, the most famous disease is a parasite called a sea louse. When wild salmon swim past farms, the sea lice can infect them. If a juvenile salmon gets more than 10 sea lice, it will die.
The other issue is that if you have a lot of animals poop in one place, you can have nitrate overload, and cause algal blooms in the marine environment. So there are lots of people who would like to see fish farms taken out of the ocean entirely and moved to a tank.
The documentary goes through a lot of potential solutions. What do you think the most promising ones are?
The no-brainer is that we should eat more kelp and mussels, because they just filter water and get their nutrients without being fed. But of course not everybody likes mussels or kelp.
Farmed fish can be acceptable, if we’re getting more protein out of it than we’re losing to disease and fish feed. I’m not sure if anyone has run the numbers. The issue is that if consumers aren’t aware of all of the options for farmed fish out there, they’ll just go with what’s cheapest. I did come across a farm in Norway where they were stocking fish less densely. To feed the fish, they were using offcuts of other fisheries, instead of directly harvested wild fish. And they were trying to address the sea lice problem with a fish called a lumpsucker that eats the lice [instead of using medicine to kill them, which can kill some other forms of sea life like shrimp as well].
Lumpsuckers are so cute!
They are cute. There’s an extended scene that got cut from the documentary where I kept trying to get a lumpsucker — [which has adhesive discs on its chest] — to stick to my forehead. I couldn’t get it to.
You already knew a lot about fish when you started making this documentary. Is there anything you learned that surprised you?
One thing I learned is that about a third of wild salmon in Alaska start their lives in a hatchery. They’re hatched [by private nonprofits and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game] to boost the productivity of rivers. It’s an issue that comes up because the salmon farming community competes with Alaskan fishers for consumers. When farmers get a lot of heat from the Alaskan wild fishing community, the farming community will say, “Hey, you’re just ranching salmon. You’re doing aquaculture, but you’re not calling it aquaculture.”
I knew a little bit about the hatcheries, but I’d never heard the Alaskan fisher’s side of things. The fishers said that often these salmon are being introduced into inlands that never had salmon to begin with, so these salmon aren’t competing with wild-born salmon, and really are supplementing the population.
Now let’s switch to the more personal part of the documentary. You ditched land meat and ate fish every day for a year to see how the diet would affect your health. Specifically, you were interested in getting a higher level of omega-3s. What are omega-3s?
Omega-3 is a fatty acid, a long hydrocarbon chain with a double bond at the third spot from the end, which seems to make it particularly bendy and adaptable to serving multiple purposes in the cell. It is the Forrest Gump of molecules.
Whenever an important health issue comes up, so does omega-3. But we’re never quite sure what it does. When people first started talking about it in the 70s, everyone got very excited because a study found a correlation between omega 3-s and low levels of heart disease. Since then, we’ve gotten statins, we’ve gotten angioplasty — all these ways of dealing with heart disease. So we’re not as focused on how, if at all, omega-3s affect heart health anymore.
What we worry about now is dementia. So now everyone’s obsessed with omega-3’s neurological effects. And of course we’re obsessed with our children and how smart they are, so we want them getting enough omega-3s. [Click here for a study The Salt covered about the effect of omega-3s on brain functioning.]
What is it like to eat fish for a whole year? Did you get sick of it?
I got sick of it at the beginning, but then I broke through. Two things happened: First, once the meat section of the supermarket became a no-fly zone, instead of looking at fish as one of four options — chicken, beef, pork, or fish — I started to see fish as containing many options within its self-contained world. There was one that might be nice broiled, or another that might be nice with a sage sauce, and another that might be brought out by rosemary. It led me to a much more diverse approach to cooking fish.
The other thing that happened with eating fish all the time is that I lost weight. Now, there’s a confounding factor: When you go to a restaurant, the fish always comes with the healthy stuff. If you order the steak, it comes with fries, but if you order the salmon, you get some nice steamed broccoli. So I don’t necessarily contribute the weight loss to the fish but to leading me to healthier patterns of eating.
We’ll let people watch the documentary to see how your health is affected by eating fish for a year. Given what you learned while making the film, what’s your approach to eating fish going forward?
So, people will see in the film that I get some disturbing results regarding my mercury levels at the end of a year. [Large amounts of mercury released from coal-powered plants ends up in the oceans and eventually, in marine organisms, including fish.]
I’m not a child or a woman of childbearing age, so I can be a little cavalier with my mercury levels. But I’ve backed away from eating fish every day. I’ve probably backed down to three or four times per week, which is still double what the average American eats. And I try to eat more mussels.
Any fish recipe recommendations?
I had a really intense embrace of the anchovy, particularly the Peruvian anchoveta, 90 percent of which is ground up and fed to pigs, chickens and farmed fish. But it’s a really good source of protein and omega-3s.
When we went to Peru for the film, we went to a cannery in the south. They were so excited someone wanted to eat the fish as opposed to grind them up, that they gave me a 10-lb container of anchovies. I found anchovies are good in an omelet. And a piece of sourdough with free-range butter and anchovies: delicious.
Steering clear of salty foods might not be as helpful for your heart health as previously thought, a new study claims.
Participants in a long-range heart study did not appear to derive any health advantage from a low-salt diet, said lead researcher Lynn Moore.
“People who were on a lower-sodium [salt] diet in general over the next 20 or 30 years actually had no benefit, specifically in terms of their blood pressure or their risk of developing heart disease,” said Moore, an associate professor with the Boston University School of Medicine.
On the other hand, these people did enjoy better health when they increased their intake of potassium, a mineral that helps the heart in a couple of ways, Moore and her colleagues found.
“Higher intakes of potassium were strongly associated with both a lower blood pressure and a lower risk of heart disease,” Moore said. “The same was true for magnesium.”
But before you reach for the shaker, consider that a leading proponent of low-sodium diets, the American Heart Association (AHA), questioned the study’s validity and said it would continue to recommend limiting salt intake.
“When there are really well-conducted clinical trials that show a direct and progressive relationship between sodium and blood pressure, I would pause before I did anything based on what’s reported in this abstract,” said AHA spokeswoman Cheryl Anderson. She’s an associate professor of cardiovascular epidemiology with the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.
The AHA recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams — about a teaspoon — of sodium a day, and an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 milligrams (mg) daily for most adults.
Moore said her results show that Americans’ average sodium intake — around 3,000 to 3,500 milligrams (mg) a day — should be healthy, particularly if they also get enough potassium and magnesium.
“There seems to be no real added risk in that range,” Moore said. “I think the average American is probably doing OK in terms of sodium, but almost all Americans need to increase their intake of potassium.”
Foods rich in potassium include dark leafy greens, potatoes, beans, squash, yogurt, salmon, avocados, mushrooms and bananas.
The new study comes on the heels of another controversial paper published last May. It suggested that restricting dietary salt to less than 3,000 mg a day appeared to increase the risk of heart disease as much as eating more than 7,000 mg a day. The AHA also disputed the earlier study, which appeared in The Lancet.
Moore’s findings are based on data from more than 2,600 men and women participating in the Framingham Heart Study, a long-range heart health study of people from Framingham, Mass.
Participants had normal blood pressure at the study’s start. But, over the next 16 years, those who consumed less than 2,500 milligrams of sodium a day tended to have higher blood pressure than participants who consumed more sodium, the researchers reported.
The investigators also found that people with higher intake of potassium, calcium and magnesium had lower long-term blood pressure.
But the research team relied on six days of detailed dietary records to estimate people’s intake of sodium and other various minerals, which is a relatively unreliable method, Anderson said.
The gold standard for tracking sodium levels is through urine samples taken across multiple days, she said. Food diaries can be inaccurate.
“They may not have captured sodium intake accurately,” Anderson said.
The study’s positive results regarding potassium have been supported by other studies, Anderson added.
Potassium helps the kidneys flush salt from the body, reducing blood levels of sodium, Moore said.
The mineral also helps relax the blood vessels and make them more flexible, which can help lower blood pressure, Moore and Anderson said.
People who consume a lot of salt — 5,000 milligrams per day — should cut back, Moore said.
Also, “for that subset of the population that’s sensitive to salt in the diet, a really critical thing is how much they’re getting of other minerals, in particular potassium but perhaps magnesium as well,” Moore said.
Moore was scheduled to present her findings Tuesday at the American Society for Nutrition’s annual meeting, in Chicago. The results should be considered preliminary until the data is peer-reviewed for publication in a medical journal.