Good for your health and the environment: why we should eat oily fish

A number of economic, nutritional, religious and ideological factors influence our diet. The key, however, is to find a balance that takes care of both our health and that of the planet.

The traditional Mediterranean and Atlantic diets are two options that meet these requirements. Fish plays an important role in both, providing flavor and nutritional value.

Globally, annual per capita fish consumption has almost doubled over the past 50 years, from 10.75 kg in 1970 to 20.03 kg in 2021. It has grown exponentially in China, where the average person ate 4 .58 kg in 1970 and 39.87 kg in 2021, and has also grown significantly in the EU, where annual consumption has increased by 40%, from 16.58 kg to 23.44 kg in the same period.

Evolution of annual fish consumption per capita over the last 50 years.

Fatty fish is defined as fish with a fat ratio of more than 5-6% of its muscle mass: sardine, tuna, mackerel and mackerel are some of the best known examples.

Fatty fish has been part of the cultural heritage of many countries throughout history. In Spain, for example, sardine is part of the San Juan festivities in June, while the coastal fishing season for albacore tuna is also traditionally followed due to the seasonal migration of fish in search of nutrient-rich waters and suitable temperatures for rearing and feeding. .

Fatty fish as part of a healthy diet

At a nutritional level, oily fish stands out thanks to three important components:

  • Polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, which may help protect against cardiovascular disease and other illnesses.

  • Peptide protein molecules made up of two or more amino acids that have various health benefits, including preventing or treating conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

  • High in vitamins (especially vitamins A, D and E) and other micronutrients such as magnesium, selenium and iodine.

The benefits of this combination of nutrients have been demonstrated by the GALIAT project (Galician Atlantic Diet), led by the University Hospital of Santiago de Compostela. The project consists of a series of clinical trials to determine the effects of the traditional Atlantic diet in the general population. The results show a reduction in metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Read more: The Atlantic diet: how it compares to its Mediterranean counterpart and what benefits it can have

Sustainable fishing practices

The fishing season for sardine, mackerel and mackerel runs, with varying intensity, from May to October. The plankton these fish eat is more abundant at this time of year, giving the fish a higher fat content and better flavor.

The most common method used to catch fat fish is known as seine fishing, one of the most environmentally friendly fishing techniques in use today:

  • It produces no bycatch (the unwanted part of the catch that is not saved and thrown back into the sea). As this technique involves surrounding a school of fish with a net to catch them, it carefully targets the desired catch, meaning it does not catch or harm other species, thus helping to protect biodiversity.

  • Taking into account all stages of production, its overall carbon footprint is one of the lowest among all sources of dietary protein. Fishing for mackerel, for example, produces an average footprint equivalent to 550g of CO2 per 100g of protein, while sardines produce 646g of CO2 per 100g of protein. This puts fatty fish on par with dairy, vegetables and legumes, and lower than most fruits and meats.

Carbon footprint of 100 g of proteins derived from various foods.

Fatty fish and traditional cuisine

The consumption of fish is part of the evolution of homo sapiens. For hundreds of thousands of years our species has incorporated it as a staple food, and its preparation has been perfected throughout history.

Fatty fish lends itself to a multitude of uses in the kitchen, from simple grilled or grilled dishes to more elaborate dishes such as tataki or papillote. One of the advantages of oily fish is that it is easy to clean and debone, which means that it can be included in the diet of children.

Given the wide range of uses, its nutritional benefits and the low environmental impact, this type of fish should be making regular appearances on our plates.

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