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Why is it important and recommended to eat fish?

For many years it has been a well-known fact that it is recommended to include fish in our diets. However, from time to time we hear warnings and receive information that raises questions and makes us doubt whether we should be eating fish.

Talia Lavie, a clinical dietician, helps to create some semblance of order in the freezer. How to obtain fish wisely; who should and shouldn’t consume fish; how many times a week; which fish to choose?

The consumption of fish in Israel is lower than in many other countries. Our dedication to schnitzel and chicken does not help to ensure that we get the variety that we should have in our diets. We are at the top of the list worldwide for consumption of chicken per person, which comes at the expense of our eating beef and, of course – fish.

Why do we eat so little fish, even though we know it is good for us? Fish is low in fat and calories, rich in protein and fats that are good for our health, minerals and vitamins, and they are not only nutritious, but quick to cook and easy to digest…

So let’s be cognizant of why we should eat fish and how to make the right choices.

Remember: not all fish are the same.

Edible fish can be grouped into three main categories:

Sweet water fish such as carp, tilapia, rainbow trout and Nile perch.

Fish that have adapted to sweet water such as grey mullet, meagre and seabass.

Saltwater fish such as hake, sole, tuna, halibut, mackerel, seabream, herring, salmon and grouper.

Is the nutritional value of all the fish the same? Indeed it is not. Different fish have different calories, types and levels of fats and of minerals. The leanest fish, and therefore the lowest in calories, are: tilapia, hake, halibut, seabass, grouper, meagre and Nile perch, as they contain less than 5% fat.

Fish from the North Sea or any other cold climate are rich in omega 3 fatty acids (salmon, halibut and hake). These fatty acids, which prevent fish from freezing in the winter, are beneficial to humans in improving blood flow, preventing blood clots and lowering the fat levels in the blood. Therefore, they are beneficial in preventing high blood pressure and infections and are good for the health of the heart.

Omega 3 fatty acids are important to the development of the brain and the eyes of a foetus. The fatty acids are delivered to the foetus through the mother’s umbilical cord and so it is important that expectant mothers include omega 3 in their diets. It is very important for nursing mothers to include omega 3 in their diets, as the development of the brain continues in the first years of a baby’s life. World health organisations have been calling for enriching baby formula with omega 3 fatty acids.

Most expecting mothers in Israel eat very little fish or none at all, because they are wary of pollutants. Therefore, it is important to avoid raw fish and to obtain fish from safe suppliers.

There are several plants that are a source of omega 3; however, these fatty acids are different from those found in deep sea fish and their benefits are also not the same.

Fish are not only omega 3

Iodine is another mineral that is important to our health and development, and it is also found in saltwater fish and seaweed. Sources of iodine are depleting the world over, and this is becoming one of the most common and troubling nutritional issues.

All sea fish, with no exceptions, contain iodine, which is vital to the function of the thyroid, the gland that is responsible for proper metabolism, growth, development, building bones, manufacturing proteins, brain function and fertility. Fish get iodine from the salt in the sea, where it is plentiful. Conversely, fresh water fish are low in iodine, because the water is low in salt. For this reason, it is preferable to eat saltwater fish, which also have a higher content of omega 3.

Saltwater fish that contain iodine – tuna, halibut, seabream and grouper.

The official recommendation, based on extensive research, is to eat fish twice a week. These recommendations do not distinguish between saltwater and freshwater fish, nor do they distinguish between fresh and frozen. It is important to eat a variety of fish, including sea fish.

All fish are healthy and good for us. However, it is important to obtain fish responsibly. When buying frozen imported fish, it is preferable to buy fish that comes directly from their natural habitat; fish that have not been defrosted and then frozen again, with a preference for those that have been frozen at sea. It is also important to verify that there is no added water, chemicals etc. Remember: freezing fish does not diminish their nutritional value.

The easiest and quickest way to include fish in your diet is to purchase frozen fillets.

Frozen fillets are clean, boneless and ready for cooking, and include salmon, Nile perch, tuna, sole and tilapia. They are simple to cook and healthy, and suitable for children too. They are nutritious, and most importantly – delicious.

Because fish are easy and quick to prepare, it is possible to cook them in a variety of ways, which all share one distinct benefit – quick cooking time, which means convenience, but no less important it means preserving their nutritional quality!!

Eat fish twice a week. It is a "recipe" for fewer heart problems, it lowers the risk of cancer, arthritis and Alzheimer’s… thus ensuring much better health.