Dr. Tania B. Babar: Five common seafood myths you can toss

By By Dr. Tania B. Babar

There are a lot of misinformation and myths floating around about seafood. I want to shed some light on five common myths, set the record straight and correct a few misconceptions – so you, your family and friends can confidently enjoy the many health and nutritional benefits of a seafood-rich diet.

Myth #1 — Fresh is better than frozen.

When high quality, local seafood is unavailable, frozen is a great alternative.

Today, we have advanced freezing technology that allows seafood companies to harvest seafood of all kinds at the peak of freshness and flash freeze it within hours. And, just because fish may be labeled “fresh” doesn’t necessary mean it was just caught or it’s of the highest quality.

Frozen seafood often gives you more options and more shelf life. Many studies over the years have shown most people didn’t taste a difference between high-quality fresh and high-quality frozen seafood when it’s prepared in a similar way. The many nutrients in seafood — including heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids — are equally present in the frozen fish varieties as they are in their fresh counterparts. In addition, seafood contains many of the B vitamins necessary for optimal nutrition. Fish, both frozen and fresh, is also a great source of lean protein.

Myth #2 — Seafood is difficult to cook.

Seafood is actually easier to cook than other meats! It cooks faster, so it’s just important to be careful not to overcook. If you use a simple meat thermometer, it takes the guess-work out of the equation. When fish hits 145 degrees, it’s done.

There are literally thousands of seafood recipes that are easy to follow, include minimal ingredients and take just a few minutes to prepare. Several seafood companies offer a wide variety of ready-to-cook fish and shrimp in the frozen section of your local grocery.

For a variety of healthy, economical seafood recipes, check out the “Recipe Slideshow” on the Seafood Nutrition Partnership website, seafoodnutrition.org/recipes. While you’re there, don’t forget to take a minute to sign the Healthy Heart Pledge and help the Kanawha Valley reach its goal of 6,500 pledges! Once you sign up, you’ll receive the partnership’s monthly e-newsletter with more recipes, coupons and local events, including cooking demonstrations and free samples.

Myth #3 — Seafood is too expensive.

Seafood includes a wide variety of fish and shellfish, much of which can be found at very reasonable prices. Because you can get the same nutritional benefits from fresh, frozen or canned seafood, it’s not too difficult to find fish that suits your palette and your pocketbook. The internet is a great source of cost-conscious recipes and ideas to include seafood in breakfast, lunch, or dinner menus. The Seafood Nutrition Partnership site above lists the average cost at the bottom of its recipes to make it easy to eat healthy while sticking to a budget. Many of these ideas are simple to prepare and under $10 for a family of four!

Myth #4 — Seafood spoils too quickly.

Because fish are accustomed to cold — sometimes very cold — temperatures, it’s important to store fish at colder levels than is required for red meat and poultry. If you are worried about fish spoiling, keep in mind that frozen fish is also a great option. Fish lasts about twice as long in the freezer as it does in the refrigerator.

Just ask at the seafood counter and they can tell you the safe shelf-life of different varieties of fresh fish and the ideal storage temperature. Canned seafood also has a much extended shelf life, as long as it is stored as recommended on the package. Furthermore, bulk retailers often sell frozen fish in large, resealable bags that help keep costs down and availability of portion-sized filets, shrimp and more readily available at home. Properly stored seafood should be mild in smell and taste, whether fresh or frozen.

Myth #5 — Avoid seafood because of mercury.

All seafood, in fact, does not contain high levels of mercury. As a rule of thumb, if you avoid older, larger predatory fish, you can enjoy the many health benefits without worrying about getting too much mercury. In fact, the American Heart Association advises eating seafood at least twice a week as an excellent source of lean protein, vitamins, nutrients and Omega-3 fatty acids, which benefit heart health. This position is supported by the Institute of Medicine, Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization.

For most adults, the benefit of fish consumption far outweighs the risk of potential risks of environmental pollutants when consumption is kept within AHA and FDA guidelines. Eating a variety of seafood is an easy way to minimize any possible risks even further. High mercury fish (shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish) can be avoided to minimize risk.

Mercury poses the most significant risks to young children and pregnant or nursing mothers because they are most prone to mercury toxicity. Pregnant women and children need not avoid all fish. In fact, studies show that Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish and seafood, promote brain development, eye sight and IQ in babies. The FDA allows for pregnant women and children to eat up to 12 ounces of low mercury fish (canned light tuna, salmon, Pollock and catfish) twice a week.

It’s always a good idea to consult your health care provider with questions or concerns related to diet, nutrition and exercise.

Tania B. Babar, M.D., is an electrophysiologist and board certified cardiologist in Charleston.

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