You need to eat fish twice a week

By Dr Harold Gunatillake - Health Writer

“Cooking fish as a curry- the Sri Lankan traditional way destroys most of the nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids. Steaming fish retains nutrients, omega-3 fatty acids, flavour and taste. Japanese are right”

Fish is filled with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins such as D, B2 (riboflavin), and a great source of minerals such as iron, iodine, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus and potassium

Eating fish is an important source of omega-3 fatty acids. These essential nutrients keep our heart and brain healthy. Two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Our bodies don't produce omega-3 fatty acids so we must get them through the food we eat. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in every kind of fish but are especially high in fatty fish. Some good choices are salmon, trout, sardines, herring, canned mackerel, canned light tuna, and oysters.

When it comes to cooking with oil omega-3 marine oils are not being used. One reason is that its smoking point is low. Cooking at high temperatures will produce free radicals that will harm your body. The more omega-3 fatty acids in the oil, the less suitable it is for cooking.

Now, as mentioned earlier fish are saturated with macronutrients like the high-quality proteins and many essential micronutrients including omega-3 fatty acids.

Cooking fish as a curry in the traditional cuisine destroys most of the omega-3 fatty acids and the micronutrients. Deep frying will reduce the omega-3 significantly. The fish that is purchased from the vendors in Sri Lanka are exposed and the omega-3 fatty acids can be damaged and oxidised by air, light and heat causing rancid odour that signals spoiled seafood.

Boiling fish has shown to preserve omega-3 fatty acid content significantly more than frying or microwaving

The traditional way of cooking fish into a curry form as done among house-wives in Sri Lanka water-base cooking methods cause the greatest losses of water-soluble vitamins, and omega-3 fats.

Roasting and baking refer to cooking food in an oven with dry heat. This method does not have a significant effect on most vitamins and minerals except for B vitamins. Omega -3 fats are destroyed.

Sautéing and stir-frying
In this method of cooking in a saucepan over medium to high heat in a small amount of oil or butter and cooking for shorter period may retain some omega-3 fats and minerals and this is considered a healthy way to prepare food.

This involves cooking fish in a large volume of oil at high temperatures coated with batter or bread crumps as done in ‘fish and chips’ outlets. Omega-3 fats are damaged at high temperatures, including many other micro-nutrients.

Eating fish and chips from a way-side outlet is tasty and adds to your satiety, but nutritionally waste of money.

Frying tuna degrades its omega-3 content by up to 70-85%, while baking causes minimal losses. Frying fatty fish is to be avoided and other foods should be fried with the minimum of time.

Steaming would be the best way to cook fish. It preserves nutrients, including water-soluble vitamins that are sensitive to heat and water, and omega-3 fats. Downside steamed fish may taste bland but marinading and adding slices of lemon enclosed in foil accentuates its taste.

Steaming fish, the Japanese way, is a terrific way to get the cleanest, purest flavour from the very freshest fish.

Steam in a bamboo basket with the fish on the top of the wok or pot filled with boiling water and covered the lid and checking after 10 minutes is the way to go. Overcooking fish will make it mushy. The fish should flake easily and should be not translucent. Even after the fish is removed from the heat it will continue to cook. For improved taste and flavour the fish may be marinated after filleting and cleaning, before steaming.

So, remember you are advised to eat fish twice a week, but think whether you get sufficient omega-3 fatty acids the way its cooked and presented.

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