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?