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Friday, July 6, 2012

Fish & Food Purity Wars

I really like fish -- all kinds.  And fish is one way to get a lot "supplements" -- in whole form, complete with other components that act in synergism with what has been refined out in supplements.  I've been getting more into fish lately as the new Korean-American owned market opened nearby.  They have an amazing seafood department including crystal clean tanks of live fish. (The other Asian market with large tanks is not quite so pristine).  One day they were having a hard time constraining jumpers!  In addition to seafoods you don't usually see elsewhere --  abalone, barrels & tanks of live crabs, octopus -- they have a really nice selection of fish varieties, both common and eccentric.   Even if I'm not in the market for fish I'll still swing by for the Chilean sea bass samples, to die for!

But as protein sources go, fish is pretty danged expensive nowadays.  Even your run-of-the-mill cod While this market is rather more affordable than where we usually go, we recently purchased a trimmed filet mignon for less per pound than most of the filleted fish, especially my beloved salmon and swordfish.   Then you see the sign:  Sale!  $6.99/lb Farmed in Vietnam (or other Asian country).   To buy, or not to buy?  The wild caught (if even available for may varieties) will be in the $12-16/lb range.


One of the things that bothers me about the paleo/primal/real food community is an almost snobbish insistence on grassfed beef, pastured eggs, and wild caught fish.   It's a turn-off, and I'm quite surprised by how many of the younger members of the community are even able to pull that off.  My food budget isn't super tight, but it gets difficult to justify spending as much on one salmon filet as 15 pounds of chicken legs.  

So anyway, I read Seafood: Keeping It Healthy and Sustainable on Franziska's Low Carb Dietitian blog a bit ago and it spoke to me with this short statement:

Some farmed fish are actually better than fresh-caught, but not salmon. 

I don't know that I'd ever heard anyone say farmed fish might even be better than wild, usually the proponents of fish farming make their best case for equivalence.  But I've often thought a case could be made that farmed fish might even be better -- especially since pollutants are one of the more major concerns.   At least it would seem to me that contamination is more regulated whereas one never knows what span of the oceans certain species traverse in their lifetime by the time they're a nice size to "harvest".  OK ... farmed in the US maybe, but how about overseas?   Yes, I know about feeds and dyes and sanitation issues, quality of life for penned fish, etc.etc.  

So what got me thinking on this a bit more?  Well, the other day my Korean market had swai (farmed in Vietnam) for $2.99/lb.  I had no idea what kind of fish it was.  Looked a little lighter than a tilapia.  I took a chance and bought some.  It was quite tasty pan fried in a little butter/PKO mix and sprinkled with Trader Joe's 21 Seasoning Salute.  Nice texture and taste.  I've since baked with a little lemon juice in the pan, a couple pats of butter and the same seasoning -- that was so quick and easy it's almost criminal!  What had eaten though?  Let me investigate!  

Turns out swai is catfish!  It's funny how you like something as an adult when you don't know what it is, because I was never a big fan as a kid (and when we went to Florida my brother used to catch lots of cat in the gulf).  So if I knew it was catfish I probably would have taken a pass.  Note to self: never hurts to revisit foods I didn't like as a kid ... after all I love olives now and could never stand them.   So what about this Vietnamese farming?  Well, I found this:  Is Vietnamese Swai and Basa Safe?  This website is aimed at professional chefs and foodies, so although the author is not named (or I didn't see it), it seems written quite even-handedly.  One thing that surprised me was that we apparently have a pretty powerful catfish farming lobby here in the US.   Go figure, but I guess I have them to thank for not knowing this was catfish and trying it, because they apparently were successful in protecting the catfish name for this fish raised in the US.  So you couple protectionary propaganda with the sort of stuff you get from environmental and animal rights groups, and I tend to side with this author.  I'll be buying this fish again -- actually I already did -- it's sold in those "flash frozen" filets and I bought up a couple bags to stow in the chest freezer while it was still on sale.  I think I'll make it blackened next, seeing as I now know it's catfish :D  (Aside:  It's a fattier fish than I had thought -- roughly 50% cals each from fat and protein -- but the O6:O3 ratio is under 2.  That's not the favorable profile of salmon, but much better than the PUFA ratios for most beloved paleo foods like nuts, eggs, grassfed beef, etc.  Wild: 27% fat, 73% protein, O6:O3 is about 0.2.  That's quite unfavorable for farmed vs. wild, but for the 159g serving size - 5.6 oz - you get almost the same O3 total, F=732 vs. W=851 mg )

What of salmon?  Well, looking into this one I learned something I did not know:  Farmed salmon has higher omega-3 content than wild, from:  Farmed vs Wild Salmon? - A comparison.  Decent sales on wild salmon are rare yet farmed is easier to find so I do buy it fairly regularly, so I'm happy to learn that somehow farming doesn't cut down on the O3's rather there are more.   Now this peer review study sound rather alarming.  From the author:
"None of us [study authors] argues that the benefits of salmon are not real. But the dirty little secret is that there are risks," said Schwager, noting that even taking into account the risks, the benefits of salmon may be particularly worthwhile for some groups.
"For a middle-aged guy who has had a coronary and doesn't want to have another one, the risks from pollutants are minor ones, and the omega-3 benefits him in a way that far outstrips the relatively minor risks of the pollutants," he said. "But for people who are young -- and they're at risk of lifetime accumulation of pollutants that are carcinogenic -- or pregnant women -- with the risks of birth defects and IQ diminution and other kinds of damage to the fetus -- those risks are great enough that they outweigh the benefits."
Well, I'm a middle-aged gal with no history of heart disease.  I guess I'll just take my chances, and since I buy salmon from various sources, sometimes wild, sometimes farmed, at least the contamination will be varied.  Oh ... and eat more sardines I suppose ;-)  One thing from The Fish Site article was more comforting.  The artificial pigments were a big controversy as farmed salmon hit the markets, but:
The 2 main pigment used by the majority of fish farmer's are indeed artificially produced but are chemically indistinct from the natural form.
If this is the case, it's like synthetic vitamins and I'm not really concerned unless some superfood powers are ever connected to salmon pigments.   Lastly, here's a study on the lipid contents of farmed vs. wild salmon:   (Anyone know what a supermarket salmon is??  Do they grow them from pods in the back or something?  LOL)
The percentage lipid in the farmed salmon (average 16.6%) is significantly greater than that in the wild salmon (average 6.4%)

The ratio of n-3 to n-6 levels in the wild salmon was about 10, whereas in the farmed salmon it was about 3-4. Among the wild salmon, chinook have the highest amount of lipid and the most n-3 fatty acids but, as shown in our previous papers (12, 13), also have the highest concentrations of contaminants.
So more total PUFA, but more O6 per O3.    From farmed v. wild,  equivalent 198g (7 oz) servings contain 58 v. 40% fat ;  4961 v.  3996 mg O3 ; 1944 v.  341 mg O6 ;  2.6:1 v.  11.7   O3:O6 ratio.    While the O3:O6 is ratio is less favorable you get almost 1000 mg more O3 per serving.  Besides, O3:O6 of 2.6:1 is an O6:O3 ratio of ~ 0.4.    Verdict:  Farmed salmon is primal!!   It could certainly help Mark Sisson bring his sometimes high PUFA diet with an often higher O6:O3 ratio than recommended  to within guidelines.  ;-) 

I dunno gang.  What are your thoughts on farmed fish?  As the Newsweek article Franziska cited discusses, I just don't see sustaining even a portion of the current human population on wild caught seafood.  Keep in mind that the availability of farmed fish keeps the price of wild caught in check due to lower demand for wild and greater total availability.  Without farming, fish as a food source, particularly certain varieties, becomes unaffordable for large swaths of the population.  I personally don't think we could sustain even a considerable portion of the current human population on an animal-based diet -- I just don't see it.  And if contamination continues, decontaminating the environment farmed fish are exposed to is at least possible in decades to come.  What say you?

35 comments:

bentleyj74 said...

I've had similar thoughts about farmed fish. The farmed environment is at least a controlled environment so the contamination issue is usually a problem with unethical suppliers. I don't worry a super big whole bunch about the sources of my meat since I don't eat a ton of it or the same thing over and over but if I did I'd probably prefer a farmed animal under decent conditions. Especially catfish given their proclivity for eating carcasses [including human bleh]

Melissa said...

Too much omega-3 can be detrimental to your health actually. I was getting waaay too high in omega-3 and developed clotting issues that were rather alarming. I prefer to stick with a limited amount of wild fish. It makes more sense to move lower on the food chain to sardines and smelt in order to get an appropriate amount of O3 with less pollutants. That said, I'm a big supporter of aquaculture. Just because it has a bad track record now, doesn't mean it can't be reformed. I think in particular indoor aquaponics is the wave of the future. Innovators in that are already working on means of improving the fatty acid content of the fish without resorting to unsustainable fish meal. And since it's not in the ocean, you can control water inputs and outputs much more carefully.

the sleepover disaster said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
log said...

The cookbook "For Cod and Country" by Barton Seaver is a great for anyone interested in this subject.

http://www.amazon.com/For-Cod-Country-Delicious-Sustainable/dp/1402777752/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

The first section of the book details the different kinds of seafood available in the U.S., and which ones are better to buy farmed or wild. There are quite a few species that are healthier and more sustainable in their farmed versions.

Also, this book has the best and easiest method of barbecuing fish that I have ever come across.

Evelyn aka CarbSane said...

Melissa, when you say clotting issues, do you mean lack of or clots? How high O3 are you talking? I agree, the dangers of too many are often overlooked and too many can apparently be as bad as too few.

Evelyn aka CarbSane said...

Sounds great log, thanks for the suggestion! Welcome!!

Evelyn aka CarbSane said...

Good point re: catfish.

I don't worry too much about contamination as even though I eat "a lot" by some people's standards, I don't eat all that much. Like you, the types and sources of my food are varied -- except I always get my porterhouse steaks from Stew Leonards (a small chain "farm store" in CT, NY & MA)

Lesley Scott said...

I actually feed my puppyboo a can of cold-water fish about once a week mixed in with rice. I recently found this giant can of "chub mackerel" in the canned fish section of my new local grocery store & it was at least half the price of the same size can of salmon. plus it came with the skin & bones still in which I figure is good for a dog of "northern" descent to eat (she's part malamute, part husky). when you compare salmon, even the canned stuff, it does seem shockingly expensive and this "chub mackerel" actually seemed like a good & comparable alternative but without the stoopid price tag. plus there's so much stuff you read about salmon that is conflicting, it truthfully makes my head spin. When I'm shopping for food, I just wanna know what's nutritious & delicious to buy - and not too toxic - rather than giving myself a headache weighing the potential pros & cons. I find it exhausting sometimes.

Karen said...

I say we quit eating!!

paleotwopointoh said...

Eh, a lot of it is insistence on eating only fish that don't taste like fish. Eating chum salmon (always wild, always full of nutrition) is always very cheap, but you know you're eating fish when you buy it vs. king salmon.

That said, there's also the option of requesting trim or bones and making stock. It's what poor people actually do in many countries with higher seafood consumption. It's also another extremely cheap option that gets you the nutrition without the $$$.

Unknown said...

I eat the swai, cheap tilapia, chum (keta) salmon, the whole bit. I figure it'll be a miracle if the fish kills me.

Evelyn aka CarbSane said...

Right? Isn't there a guy in India or somewhere who claims to live on air and water? Oh wait ... those are contaminated too :D

log said...

Frozen fish fillets are also a pretty good option, especially since most fish is flash frozen on the boat anyway. Trader Joe's, at least on the west coast, has frozen wild Alaskan salmon filets for around 7 or 8 bucks a pound. Depending on the size of your family, most people could afford to eat that once a week if not more.

Evelyn aka CarbSane said...

FWIW, I like swai quite a lot more than the tilapia -- which isn't bad, but I'm just happy I tried the swai.

Funny I've never even seen chum salmon and now there's 3 people at least mentioning it. I'm sure they have it at this market, but usually I get my fish at the regular grocery with an 8-10' display of "fresh" fish (often previously frozen). I've been meaning to play with fish heads for stock :D

Funny, some stores charge so much for various bones, feet, fish heads, etc. Not expensive, but they charge. We just made pork butt steak and I made soups. There was enough connective tissue in the steaks to make pork jello, but I still like to make bone broth. Our "pork store" gave hubs a big bag of bones for free. Good stuff.

I live in a rather expensive area these days ... didn't used to be so growing up. You have to find sources that don't market stuff like bones to the hoity toity!

Evelyn aka CarbSane said...

Yeah, my folks get that. We frequently get their shrimp -- the larger size is routinely at the sale price anywhere else but in 1 lb bags, though they jumped in price by like $2/lb about a year or so ago. Salmon freezes really well in my experience, whether flash frozen or bought on sale and frozen by me. Heck, it even holds up to a little freezer burn if I throw it in w/o careful packing and forget it's in there! Oh ... and the flash frozen jumbo sea scallops are a good deal and yummy if that's your cuppa tea. I've been less impressed with swordfish -- it just gets "soggy" and loses water when you thaw it. Was disappointed in the flavor and texture of the one I tried, so I will just wait for it to go on sale.

Beth@WeightMaven said...

"I figure it'll be a miracle if the fish kills me."

I nominate this for comment of the year!

bentleyj74 said...

Seconded! :)

Sanjeev said...

James Randi once had one of these guys in a hotel room that Randi staked out.

Late one night the breatharian sneaked out for some food.

George Hrab recently had a case of a Swiss woman who tied to do it & died, on his "religious moron of the week" segment.

Sanjeev said...

All you need to do is find one little biochemical trick that in vitro sequesters oxygen, label it as the decisive factor, and write a book

Your theory will start like this: if you want to live without food all you need is dysregulation of your oxygen metabolism"
; ) ; 0

Sue said...

Interested to know was this from supplementing or just foods.

OnePointFive said...

I buy basa quite often It's sold as Panga here in France and River cobbler at some UK supermarkets. Like you I found a lot of propaganda against it on the internet. There is a French video which is full of allegations(unsustainable, injected with female human urine and will make you sick )Lik you I also found more reasoned articles.
I do eat local fish where possible but cost does come into it.

Franziska said...

Thanks for the mention, Evelyn! Also appreciate your take on the affordability aspect of wild-caught fish, as well as the swai recommendation :)

Unknown said...

Re Chum Salmon, if the salmon is frozen, wild caught and cheap it is usually chum salmon. If it doesn't have a name (like sockeye) then it is usually chum salmon. In most stores they call it keta salmon if they give it a name at all, because keta sounds better than chum. I think it is also sometimes referred to as dog salmon.

Woodey said...

I love James Randi! My first encounter with him was on Penn & Teller's Bulls**t show (love that show), anyhow I think what people like him and Michael Shermer do to promote science and debunk scammers is very noble.

It is ironic that I discovered Gary Taubes through a reference by a Skeptic group that Michael Shermer liked on Facebook. Goes to show you that even Skeptics can be fooled.

Woodey said...

I love seafood and used to get grief for it when I was a kid, because my peers thought tuna was gross.

Anyhow, I come across farm raised fish bashers on a consistent basis. Their reasoning is that farm raised fish eat man-made pellets that are bad for them and instead of the natural food like bugs that wild fish eat. I kind of put them in the category of the grass-fed only people and buy with my wallet and common sense. I don't think farm raised fish is bad for you and can be quite tasty. If it tastes good and is decently priced I am going to eat it.

Trader Joe's rocks and I got some cod and mahi mahi there last week at very good prices. It was wild caught, but to be honest I didn't care, it was cheap and tasted good.

Although nothing beats mercury filled tuna with illegal dolphin caught in it. Dolphin tastes good on white bread with mayo (gotta keep up my rep of being politically incorrect, life's too short to be anything else).

Lesley Scott said...

"Dolphin tastes good on white bread with mayo" um, pretty much anything tastes good on white bread w/ mayo :)

Woodey said...

You make an excellent point.:)

Chris Ford said...

Mackerel is very good nutritionally and fairly cheap (at least in the UK). Fortunately it's also my favourite fish! I do love kippers (smoked herring) too which are incredibly cheap, but must be cooked outside because they make the house reek.

Evelyn aka CarbSane said...

I love it smoked. Yes, incredibly cheap! It is also a pretty good alternative to canned tuna and I think more palatable all by itself vs. some sardines. I think the canned stuff comes from a larger variety than the smoked fish I buy (less than a foot long) which makes me wary of mercury. But after listening to Chris Kresser, I'm far less worried. Welcome Chris! (I think this is your first comment here)

Chris Ford said...

Second comment but who's counting...! The first one was a while ago anyway. Agreed on the smoked mackerel, excellent value and lots of good meal options (grilled, chowders, kedgeree etc).

Evelyn aka CarbSane said...

Chris, for some reason both of your comments here went first to my Spam folder. Just wanted to let you know blogger has it out for you. Usually it's a link, or repeated postings and such that get posts thrown there. Gosh it ticks me off. You can't opt out of the Spam filter :( Most real spam doesn't get caught and I have to rescue real comments.

Evelyn aka CarbSane said...

Homer voice: Mmmmmmmmmmm. Dolphin.

Chris Ford said...

Ah... so this is what it feels like when the interwebz is out to get you! That really makes a lot of sense since I am posting using my blogger ID. Oh well...

Lesley Scott said...

Evelyn, I was grocery shopping with the hubs this afternoon & what should i find in the fish freezer but a really good deal on frozen Swai. I was so excited I actually knew what it was thanks to this post! I told hubs it was catfish & he got all excited: both at the price & the catfish. I found a yummo looking recipe for lemon/pepper swai I'll be cookin' up soon!

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