Stocking Your Healthful Freezer: Meat, Poultry, and Fish (Part 9)

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Summer’s over. You might be thinking wistfully of grilled salmon or lobster or steamed clams. Yes, seafood traditionally seems to be “summertime” food, but there’s no reason that you can’t eat it year round. The “catch” is knowing how to select fish and seafood, whether it’s fresh or frozen.

Why Eat Seafood?
Most people know that fish, in general, is good for you. For a long time, you’ve been hearing about fish oils, or omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower your risk of heart disease and arrhythmias, lower your triglycerides (a type of blood fat), and even lower your blood pressure a little. Besides the omega-3s, though, fish is packed with other nutrients, including protein, B vitamins, and various minerals. Fish and other seafood are low in saturated fat, which is an added plus. And let’s clear up the myth about shrimp and cholesterol: Yes, shrimp does contain some cholesterol (4 large shrimp contain 43 milligrams). But, shrimp is very low in saturated fat. Remember that it’s the saturated fat, and not so much the cholesterol, in food that makes a difference in your blood cholesterol. So, you’re much better off eating shrimp than a hamburger (just avoid the breaded, fried shrimp).

Is Fish Safe to Eat?
Unfortunately, for all the good things in fish, there are sometimes harmful things, too. Fish may contain toxic chemicals, including mercury, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and dioxins, thanks to pollutants in our environment. In fact, pretty much all fish and shellfish contain mercury and PCBs (which have been banned since the late 1970’s). But studies have shown that the health benefits of eating seafood outweigh any of the risks. To be on the safe side, the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have issued guidelines for consuming fish (check out the EPA’s Web site for specifics). So while it may seem scary to eat seafood, don’t let it stop you from including it in your eating plan.

How to Choose Fish

  • Fresh fish and shellfish. When you’re buying fresh fish, only buy it at reputable markets. And don’t buy seafood that is more than one day old. You don’t want seafood that’s been hanging around in the case for several days. Ask if you’re not sure how long the fish has been there. For fish, make sure that the eyes are clear and stick out a bit; avoid fish with eyes that look dull and sunken in. The flesh should be firm to the touch and it should have a fresh “sea” smell. If it’s too fishy smelling, don’t buy it. Also, the gills should be red. If you’re in the market for fresh crab or lobster, make sure that the legs are still moving before you buy them. And clams, oysters, and mussels should close up if you tap them. Be very careful with fresh seafood in terms of storing it. Refrigerate or freeze your seafood right after you buy it. If you won’t be eating your seafood within two days, wrap it tightly in freezer wrap or freezer bags and put it in the freezer.
  • Frozen seafood. Before you roll your eyes at the thought of eating frozen seafood, it might help to know that seafood that is frozen at sea is actually often fresher than the seafood you buy at the case. Frozen fish is cleaned and filleted a few hours after being caught, usually right on the fishing vessel. And it can take days for some fresh fish to make it to the market. But to be on the safe side, when buying frozen fish, make sure that the package is completely intact. Vacuumed-sealed frozen fish is ideal. Also, there shouldn’t be any ice crystals, skin discoloration or signs of blood. Some of the fattier fish, such as tuna don’t always freeze so well. Better frozen fish and shellfish options include:

    • Pacific cod or pollock
    • Sockeye salmon
    • Tilapia
    • Catfish
    • Pacific halibut
    • Sole
    • Snapper
    • Shrimp
    • Squid
    • Alaskan king crab
    • Vacuum-packed sea scallops

Allow frozen fish to thaw in your refrigerator for up to 24 hours, or run it under cold water for a speedier thaw. Cook your seafood as soon as possible to avoid dryness. And, as you know, use healthful cooking methods, such as broiling, grilling, baking, or poaching. Steer clear of breaded, fried fish and seafood. Try to eat seafood at least twice a week. Don’t forget, too, that canned fish is OK, especially if you can’t get good fresh or frozen fish in your area.

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