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Is Fish A Health Food?

we know this is a complex subject, very interested to hear what you all have heard.

-Habib


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Wed. Jan 14, 8:20am

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I love that PT is providing a forum for this type discussion.

I read the research and I always wonder what is behind it which is another way of saying I read with a certain amount of skepticism. But I am trained in sciences and skepticism is part of the profile.

I am not going to reply directly with more research, but instead with some of the questions I face as I consider "what to eat." That's where I tend to live these days.

I take omega 3 supplements derived from fish oil. After reading extensively about this I have decided it is central to my good health. I have to say I am conflicted about this. I wonder most about the impact on fish populations and I wonder about the manufacturing of the oil (purity and REALLY what are we doing taking supplements like this). So it brings up footprint and reductionist thinking questions for me.

I eat eggs with omega 3's I also eat the yolks so I GET the omega 3's. I have looked into getting grass fed animals as meat sources. Even at places like Whole Foods, it is difficult to know how the livestock was raised. Most is "grass finished" which is entirely different from grass fed. Grass finished livestock is better than strictly grain fed livestock, but it doesn't really cover the bases with omega 3's.

I think you hit the nail on the head Habib when you said this is a complex question. It is hard to know how to be practical and cover your bases AND step back and look at the big picture.

The big picture is we are in a situation where we need to look closely at what we are doing about food as a culture. There are so many levels to this. Pollution, manufacturing (and questionable "food" components), footprint, and longevity of supply are huge questions. Also use of fertilizers and pesticides and human overpopulation are other elements to consider. Then there are distribution questions and third world issues (rain forest destruction and starvation). The list goes on.

When I write lists like that, I know it looks really pessimistic and negative. I guess I want to say I wish we looked at the bigger picture as we make choices and consider the dilemmas as we decide. We will probably not come up with great adaptations during our lifetimes. But I think we need to consider the future for our children and our grandchildren and try to get to a place where we can consider more sustainable health based food decisions.

Fish you say? I like salmon and I try to eat wild instead of farmed. I eat is occasionally. I can't find flounder anymore. I eat cod from time to time and tilapia (which I am pretty sure is farmed). Shrimp is a favorite (but I am pretty sure it is farmed too). I go through periods of eating more fish, then I won't have it again for weeks. I feel like I am in the wild west with my fish questions...are the wild sources over fished? what are the farmed sources fed? Where do they come from?

I can't always think this way. Sometimes I just have to eat a meal and hope for the best. But these are my underlying and big picture questions.

I kind of side stepped the whole original question. But I feel like these discussions need to happen in a broader context.

H2

Wednesday, January 14, 2009, 10:20 AM

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H2- what a great post.

-Habib

Wednesday, January 14, 2009, 11:38 AM

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Not all seafood is fish!

Having read your link, I seriously doubt the knowledge of anyone who classifies lobster (a crustacean) or clams, oysters, and scallops (molluscs) as "fish," which are generally recognized to be vertebrates, such as the tilapia, swordfish, and perch mentioned.

The distinction is not a small picky one; vertebrate muscle tissue is an entirely different thing from the stomach of a clam or even the muscle of a scallop. To use one nutrient example, "shellfish" of either the crustacean or molluscan type is very high in cholesterol compared to fish.

I'm thus HIGHLY skeptical of the correlation drawn between fish and breast cancer, when what he really means is SEAFOOD, which is such a broad category.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009, 1:26 PM

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As someone trained in the biological sciences (most recently botany, but I've a full complement of zoology, includng Biology of Fishes), I'd like to point out that the majority of food fishes are apex predators. This means that there are fewer of them than there are their prey, and toxins that are at low levels in "prey" species become concentrated in the apex predators.

So there are two issues here: by eating carnivorous, apex predators, we're ingesting more environmental contaminants. Also, we're eating fish that form the pinnacles of local food chains -- oceans are not limitless feasts of productivity, and eating a tuna is akin (in a food web), to eating a lion that eats a wildebeast. Or, more realistically, perhaps, to eating a lion that ate a jackal that fed on a wildebeast.

Of the economically viable fish species that are harvested, almost all are trawled. Trawling destroys underwater habitat, including, but not limited to, coral reefs. And no, coral reefs aren't just a tropical phenomenon. There are ancient cold-water reefs in the north pacific that were discovered less than 30 years ago.

Another factor: there are many "new" food fishes, which are emerging in today's fishmarkets as an effect of having depleted traditional fishing grounds/species (ie, cod fishing off the Grand Banks). Often, these species are poorly known to science; we know little of their diversity, almost nothing of their reproduction, and have very little concept of whether or not they're endangered even prior to fishing. Let's take the orange roughy, for example. What we know about this fish is that people like eating it, it comes from quite deep in the water column (below 200 m), and individuals can live more than 200 years. That orange roughy you're going to grill with tangelo? It could've been alive when Victoria was Queen. We don't know how often the species breeds, nor do we know the age at which it reaches sexual maturity. It is likely that becuase it is so long-lived, it reaches maturity slowly, and doesn't breed often. But.... we don't know. And if they're depleted by overfishing, we never will.

Consumption of fish is, at best, environmentally irresponsible. The most responsible fish consumption is farmed fish, although aquaculture has many inherent problems. The first of these is that fish farms are veritable breeding grounds for parasites that decimate wild populations. Because aquaculture maintains many fish in close proximity, parasite loads are exceedingly high. Also, numerous salmon farming operations typically raise Atlantic salmon... in the Pacific. Escapees compete with native Pacific salmon for resources and spawning grounds. Finally, fish farms produce a lot of waste, which filters down to the ocean floor beneath them. Quite often, these marine dung heaps destroy the natural habitats they settle upon.

All told, I'm not saying "Don't eat fish!" I'm saying, think about the consequences of your actions, think about the fact that the farming of terrestrial herbivores is better managed than aquaculture (at least we use cattle manure for something -- no one uses fish detritus), and think about the environmental impact of a high demand for fish.

Hopping off my soapbox, now...
~Steampunk

Wednesday, January 14, 2009, 8:24 PM

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Fabulous steampunk! I love reading this kind of thing. I really helps with making those meal to meal decisions. None of this is "easy" when you really look at it. There is so much to consider.
H2


Wednesday, January 14, 2009, 8:53 PM

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IMHO

I take exception to the idea that the terms 'farming of terrestrial herbivores' and 'better managed' are used together. We are cutting down precious rain forest to accommodate the planting of food for these herbivores, the methane gas they produce is the largest green house gas contributing to global warming, which the planet has less resources to process since we're cutting down the trees. Factory farming is not well managed, and is a detriment to our health both inside and out. (I do applaud the efforts re: dairy cows whose gas is being used for power.) Global warming is changing the planet, and adversely impacting the state of our oceans, so fish can no longer be counted on as a 'health' food no matter how cold or wild it is. It seems we are reaching a tipping point where the planet will survive, but it's not looking too good for the inhabitants if drastic measures aren't taken pretty soon - like severely limiting animal protein production. Yes, it's a manic day!

Thursday, January 15, 2009, 12:28 PM

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I used those terms in association with "than", as in "than aquaculture". That ought of give you an idea of how badly aquaculture is managed. I did not say the cattle industry was well-managed. It is not, as you have noted.

The effects of aquaculture fall under the public radar, b/c few people physically see them. Few people are even aware of standard aquaculture procedures, let alone the pitfalls, drawbacks, and destructive practises that occur.

~Steampunk

Thursday, January 15, 2009, 9:17 PM

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This is really interesting (yet disturbing) article/thread. Though none of it surprises me, I am glad that you have brought this back to my personal forefront. It makes me much more conscious of what I will be buying in the next weeks, and re-focuses my meal-making more back to what I know we SHOULD be eating. Thank you all for the re-update, the re-education and thanks to ME for taking the time to read this -- life gets so busy sometimes, its good to take some time for research and try to get a little more on track.

Thursday, January 20, 2011, 10:38 AM

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I'm glad too. Thanks for bringing it back up.

Saturday, January 22, 2011, 5:46 PM

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