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    Archive for the ‘fish’ Category

    Why The Media Needs a Vegan 101 Course… Stat!

    With vegan eating increasingly becoming more mainstream, I thought it was time to compile a list of recent articles to see how the media frames and discusses the issue. Despite some improvements, there is certainly room for more.

    Below, what the media continues to get wrong — and how it can avoid making the same mistakes.

    Continue Reading »


    You Ask, I Answer: Calcium From Fish

    ID79601I’ve learned tons about nutrition from you!  One of the things I’m glad I now know is that spinach isn’t a good source of calcium because it is high in oxalates (and you’re right, a lot of nutritionists get that wrong!).

    What about calcium in canned salmon and sardines?  Is that pretty easy for the body to absorb?

    — Jessica Unter
    (City Withheld), TX

    Sardines — and canned salmon, for that matter — lack compounds that interfere with calcium absorption.  Much like dark, leafy green vegetables (kale, mustard greens, bok choy, and collard greens) and tofu, sardines are a great calcium source for anyone who is lactose intolerant or has a milk allergy.

    Diets very high in total protein can affect calcium levels, but that does not mean a food high in protein has that effect.

    Three ounces of sardines contribute a third of the daily value of calcium.


    Numbers Game: Answer

    JapanMapAdults in Japan consume approximately 7.5 times as many DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids per day as their United States counterparts.

    That can certainly help explain why, compared to the United States, Japan has a 40 percent lower rate of deaths from cardiovascular disease and a 70 percent lower rate of deaths from coronary heart disease!

    Don’t think this is solely attributed to high intakes of fish (while Japan’s consumption is high, it comes in third — China and Iceland’s intake is higher!)

    Japan, however, happens to have the hands-down-highest global per capita consumption of sea vegetables.  Not only are many sea vegetables excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids; they also contain phytonutrients and antioxidants that help lower the risk of developing heart disease and various cancers.

    This is why I strongly support the “Mediterrasian” style of eating, which takes heart-healthy cues from traditional Mediterranean (i.e.: olive oil, legumes, nuts, and seeds) and Asian dietary patterns (dark leafy greens, fatty fish/sea vegetables).


    You Ask, I Answer: Side Effects from Fish Oil Capsules?

    sealogix_oil2Are you aware of any side effects resulting from ingesting fish oil capsules?

    Specifically, a relative of mine is very sensitive to many compounds (a number of prescription drugs in particular). Her (highly regarded) general practitioner advised her to start fish oil supplementation, possibly in connection with high cholesterol.

    Since taking the supplements, she has experienced itchiness, has developed some sores (similar to psoriasis) and says that she has experienced cuts more frequently with higher than normal bleeding from the cuts.

    Have there been any studies conducted that point to such possible side effects?

    — Bill M.
    Via the blog

    This is actually a two-part question.

    Before I go any further though, let me make something very clear.  Clearly, your relative’s body is sending her a message — “these supplements do not agree with me.”  She needs to listen to that above everything else.

    Side effects to fish oil supplementation have indeed been reported and are mentioned in the literature.

    The itchiness and sores could very well be the result of a fish oil allergy or, if she is taking these supplements in capsule form, possibly an allergy to an ingredient in the capsule shell.

    If it is the latter, than switching to a liquid supplement would resolve that issue.

    What worries me most, however, is the excessive bleeding.

    Although omega-3 fatty acids have anti-clotting, blood thinning properties (which are a good thing!), I suspect such a dramatic effect may be the result of the fish oil working in conjunction with something else.

    Does she take a daily aspirin?  Similarly, is she currently on Coumadin, blood pressure medications, or any non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs?

    If the answer to any of those is ‘yes’, she needs to tell her general practitioner immediately and stop taking fish oil supplements.

    In the meantime, while this gets sorted out, she can take the following nutrition-related steps to help lower her cholesterol:

    • Increase her intake of soluble fibers (oatmeal, beans, legumes, fruits, and vegetables)
    • Make an effort to make most of her fats monounsaturated (by consuming avocado, olive oil, peanuts, and sesame seeds)
    • In the event that she is allergic to fish oil, consume omega-3 fatty acids from other sources (ground flaxseed, walnuts)

    Even if she eventually gets the green light to resume fish oil supplementation, the above-mentioned steps are absolutely worth keeping in mind.


    Go Fish (Even if You’re Pregnant!)

    tuna_sushi_0123My most recent leisure read is Steven Shaw’s Asian Dining Rules: Essential strategies for eating out at Japanese, Chinese, Southeast Asian, Korean, and Indian restaurants.

    I love food (and culinary cultures) as much as nutrition, so this was a perfect find.

    The first chapter — devoted to sushi — includes a short aside titled “Pregnant Sushi.”  I thoroughly enjoyed it and wanted to summarize the main points for you:

    • In the United States, raw fish is considered a no-no for pregnant women.  In Japan, it is considered “part of good neonatal nutrition.”  Just in case, I researched this on my own and, sure enough, the Japanese Ministry of Labor, Health, and Welfare only cautions pregnant women to eat fish high in mercury sparingly.  There is no mention of “raw fish” as a food to avoid during pregnancy.
    • Raw mollusks (especially clams and oysters) are responsible for approximately 85 percent of seafood-related foodborne illnesses.
    • “If you take raw and partly cooked shellfish out of the equation, the risk of falling ill from eating seafood is one in 2 million servings; by comparison, the risk from eating chicken is one in 25,000.”
    • Foodborne illnesses from fish are mostly caused by cross-contamination or inadequate storage conditions, not by virtue of eating a raw piece.
    • Fish served in sushi restaurants has been previously flash frozen, which kills parasites as effectively as cooking.
    • “Most of the fish likely to have parasites, like cod and whitefish, are not generally used for sushi.  Fish like tuna are not particularly susceptible to parasites because they dwell in very deep and cold waters.  Sushi restaurants typically use farmed salmon to avoid the parasite problems wild salmon have.”

    The author makes a strong point when he states that “the Japanese government is fanatical about public health… you can be sure that, were there documented complications resulting from pregnant women eating sushi in Japan, there would be swift government intervention.”


    You Ask, I Answer: Omega-3 Content of Seafood

    shrimp[Your post on fish oils had me wondering] if anchovies, shrimp, crab, and clams were good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.

    — Corey Clark
    (Location withheld)

    Anchovies are a great source.  A 3-ounce serving delivers an impressive 1.2 grams of DHA and EPA (that’s total, not respectively).

    (Reminder: DHA and EPA are two essential fatty acids predominantly found in fish; vegetarian sources like walnuts and flaxseed offer ALA, another type of omega-3 fatty acid).

    Crustaceans and mollusks offer lower levels.

    A 3-ounce serving of shrimp, for instance, averages 0.37 grams (that number could be slightly higher or lower depending on the specific variety of shrimp).  That same amount of crab averages 0.29 grams, while 3 ounces of clams average 0.1 grams.

    Apart from the well-known salmon and tuna, here are other very good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids:

    • Bluefish
    • Dogfish
    • Herring
    • Lake trout
    • Mackerel (caution: very high in mercury!)
    • Sablefish

    FYI: Catfish and tilapia not only offer very low amounts of Omega-3s, they are also quite high in Omega-6 fatty acids.

    Although both Omega-3 and Omega-6 are essential (meaning we must get them from the diet), the typical US diet is very high in Omega 6s.  This imbalance promotes inflammation, which consequently raises one’s risk for a variety of diseases and conditions.


    You Ask, I Answer: Fish Oil Supplements & Mercury

    fish-oil-tabletsIs there anything in particular I should look for when buying fish oil supplements?

    Also, should I be worried about mercury levels?

    — Dennise O’Grady
    Bay Head, NJ

    The main thing you want to look for is the presence of DHA and EPA (you want anywhere from 500 to 1,000 milligrams of each of those essential fatty acids).

    Oil from krill (small, cold-water crustaceans that live in the ocean floor) is apparently starting to be considered the golden standard in some circles since it appears to be the most easily absorbable, and also contains antioxidants not found in oil from fish.

    That said, oil from actual fish is just as good a source of those two fatty acids.

    Since fish oils are extracted from fish that are very low on the food chain (e.g.: mackerel, herring, sardines, cod), mercury contamination is not a concern.

    My rule of thumb is: food first, then supplements.  If you can get your omega-3 fatty acids from eating fish, that is best.

    However, I realize there are some barriers.  Some people do not like the taste of fish, others are vegetarian, and, as is the case with salmon, there is always the doubt of whether the fish you are eating is wild or farmed (farmed fish tend to have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids).

    For those interested in eating their DHA and EPA, I highly recommend sardines.  They are never farmed, so you can always expect a good dose of those two omega-3 fatty acids!


    You Ask, I Answer: Imitation Crabmeat

    I’m curious about imitation crabmeat, [the kind used to make most] California rolls.

    What is it made of? Someone told me that it’s vegetarian?

    How healthy (or unhealthy) is it?

    — Corinne Harris
    Fort Lauderdale, FL

    Practically all imitation crab meat (also known as surimi) is made by deboning and mincing Alaskan pollock — an inexpensive, very mild-flavored fish — and mixing it with a variety of other ingredients.

    What ingredients, you ask?

    Mainly sugar, oil, artificial and/or natural flavorings, and a variety of stabilizers and thickeners like egg whites and potato starch (to give it that chewy texture.)

    It is certainly not vegetarian.

    That said, there are vegetarian mock crab meats out there. These can be very hard to find even in specialty vegetarian stores, so your best bet is to look for online suppliers.

    There are also some tofu-based recipes for “Do It Yourself” vegetarian crab meat.

    From a nutritional standpoint, imitation crab meat contains half the protein, three times the carbohydrate, and approximately twice as much sodium as real crab meat.

    Calorically, though, they are almost identical.


    You Ask, I Answer: Tilapia

    I understand the importance of eating fish that have good levels of Omega 3 fatty acids for heart health.

    I always read about salmon, tuna, and sardines, but not about other fish.

    I like to eat tilapia. Is it a good source of Omega 3s?

    — Melissa Oswald
    Buffalo, NY

    Tilapia isn’t generally a fish I recommend to people looking to improve heart health through higher intakes of Omega-3 fatty acids.

    It’s not that tilapia is inherently unhealthy. My recommendation simply comes back to the issue of fish farming.

    You see, it’s very rare to find wild tilapia, so you can bet that whether you’re buying it at the supermarket or ordering it off the menu at a restaurant, you are getting a farmed version.

    That’s NOT good news. Rather than consuming their regular aquatic diet, these fish are being fed cheap, dependable corn.

    This ultimately results in negative health consequences for consumers.

    Earlier this year, a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that the average Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio in a 3.5 ounce portion of farmed tilapia was a disconcerting 11:1 (wild salmon, meanwhile provides a 1:1 ratio.)

    As I have explained in previous posts, dietary Omega 6:Omega 3 ratio plays a significant role in heart health (Cliff’s Notes version: too much Omega-6 and not enough Omega-3 promotes inflammation, thereby increasing the risk of a number of diseases).

    This is probably why you don’t ever see tilapia mentioned in articles on heart-healthy fish.


    In The News: Seeking Health? Look to the Mediterranean

    The question of “ideal diets” is a hot topic in the nutrition field.

    Although many dietitians agree that a Mediterranean style of eating — ” rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, cereals [mainly whole grains], fish, olive oil and, yes, a bit of red wine with meals” — is optimal, you are bound to run into individuals of the opinion that good health is achieved by eating liberal amounts of saturated fat and protein while shunning carbohydrates.

    The British Medical Journal is helping shed light on this cloudy matter with one of the largest meta-analysis studies ever conducted, compiling “a dozen of the most methodologically sound of these observational studies, which included over 1.5 million people followed for up to eighteen years, analyzing cardiovascular consequences and some other important health outcomes.”

    End result? The Mediterranean diet was found to have the lowest rate of cardiovascular disease, cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s.

    To quote directly from the study, “greater adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with a significant improvement in health status, as seen by a significant reduction in overall mortality (9%), mortality from cardiovascular diseases (9%), incidence of or mortality from cancer (6%), and incidence of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease (13%).”

    Although the Mediterranean Diet is no longer an accurate name (the younger generations in these countries are eating too much processed food and too many calories, as evidenced by rising rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes), this particular way of eating does many things correctly.

    Among them? Focusing on minimally processed foods high in fiber and phytonutrients, including heart-healthy fats (monounsaturated and Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats), and keeping added sugars to a minimum.

    Although this is termed a “Mediterranean” diet pattern, it contains many parallels to the diet of one of the healthiest countries — Japan.

    This bit of “news” simply confirms what dietitians have been recommending for decades: stick to a desirable caloric range while making sure to eat your fruits and vegetables, keeping an eye on saturated and trans fat intake, choosing healthy fats, and avoiding added sugars whenever possible.

    I am also of the belief that since this kind of eating pattern cuts down on empty calories, it makes sticking within a desired caloric range a little easier.


    You Ask, I Answer: Iodine

    The only salt I have at home (and use for everything) is sea salt. The packaging states that it is not a source of iodine.

    Do I need to use regular table salt in order to get iodine in my diet?

    How would I know if I had an iodine deficiency?

    How much should I get each day?

    — Crystal Fales
    Philadelphia, PA

    Iodine has a very specific function in the body — without it, our thyroid gland is unable to produce an important hormone called thyroxine.

    Consequently, an iodine deficiency results in the enlargement of the thyroid gland (a condition known as goiter, pictured at left) as well as hypothyroidism (some of the main consequences of this include a slowed down metabolism and increased total blood cholesterol.)

    Thyroxine is also crucial for brain growth and development in babies (both inside and outside the womb) and children.

    Although table salt contains iodine (a direct result of fortification), so do many other foods.

    Ironically, although iodine is not in sea salt, anything that lives in the sea (whether it’s fish or plants) is a great source of the mineral.

    Dairy and eggs are also fairly good sources of iodine, as a result of food processing techniques.

    Vegetables are a little tricky because their iodine content varies on the amount of the mineral found in the specific soil in which they grow.

    Adults should aim for approximately 150 micrograms a day. This figure is not too helpful, though, since most foods that contain iodine do not contain nutrition fact labels, and those that do do not list it.

    A three-ounce serving of fish (the size of a human palm and as thick as the average adult’s pinky finger) provides approximately 150 to 300 percent of a day’s worth of iodine.

    Vegans can sometimes be low in iodine (again, depending on the specific content of iodine in the vegetables they are eating,) so supplementation is always an option.

    Be careful with over-supplementation, though. An excess of iodine results in hyperthyroidism, which can lead to insomnia, restlessness, and rapid heartbeat.

    Lastly, allow me to point out that the sodium in processed foods is not fortified with iodine. So, a frozen meal containing sky-high levels of sodium provides absolutely no iodine.


    In The News: Three Cheers for the Mediterranean Medley

    A recent study published in the British Medical Journal offers great news for those of you who mainly adhere to a Mediterranean “Diet” like the one pictured at right — it appears to be quite effective at lowering your risk of diabetes.

    The New York Times reports that the study, which “followed 13,380 healthy Spanish university graduates for an average of four and a half years, tracking their dietary habits and confirming new cases of diabetes through medical records” determined that “higher adherence to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, plant based foods (fruits, vegetables, and legumes) and fiber but low in meats was inversely associated with incidence of Type 2 diabetes among initially healthy participants.

    I’m personally a huge fan of The Mediterranean way of eating (I hate the term “Mediterranean Diet”).

    I consider it not only delicious, but also a beautiful — and healthy — array of protein, fats, and carbohydrates.

    It is not about hunting down ice cream made with Splenda, chowing down on egg and bacon breakfasts, or munching on convenience snacks low in fat but loaded with sugar.

    Instead, you base your meals on mainly unprocessed food: nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, low-fat dairy, and olive oil, all with a healthy dose of portion control.

    Sounds — and tastes — good to me.

    Pyramid image © 2000 Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust. Visit their website (http://www.oldwayspt.org) for a wealth of educational materials relating to the Mediterranean Pyramid and other current nutrition topics.


    Perfect Pickings: Tuna

    It may surprise you to learn that not all canned tuna is created equally.

    First up: packed in water or oil?

    Water is preferrable – for two reasons.

    It results in less calories (60 calories per 2 ounce serving, rather than 110 or 120) and, since water and oil don’t mix, the Omega-3 fatty acids present in tuna are not lost when water is drained.

    The two more important issues surrounding canned tuna are sodium and mercury levels.

    A standard 6 ounce can of tuna provides 750 – 850 milligrams of sodium (approximately a third of a day’s needs) — quite a bit for its low calorie contribution (roughly 150, if canned in water).

    Look for low-sodium varieties that slash sodium by half, like Starkist’s “low sodium tuna”.

    You will barely tell the difference, especially if you are eating canned tuna as part of a salad or sandwich.

    Albacore tuna — the white, meatier, less fishy tasting of the bunch — happens to be one of the largest fish.

    Therefore, its mercury content is approximately 3 times higher than that of smaller fish — mainly skipjack — used for chunk light varieties.

    Some companies, like King of the Sea, sell authentic low-mercury — chunk light is “lower mercury”– tuna . The secret? Using yellowfin tuna!

    Here’s a tidbit that surprises many people.

    Those of you with a milk protein (casein) allergy must read canned tuna labels carefully, since some of them are processed by adding hydrolyzed casein!

    Lastly, be mindful of what you’re putting on your tuna. If it’s a few tablespoons of mayo, it’s time to do some modifying.

    I find, for instance, that hummus — especially a red pepper variety — is a wonderfully tasty replacement for mayonnaise when making tuna salad.


    In The News: The Big Fish Exposé

    Last week’s report on the alarmingly high mercury content of tuna sushi served in various New York City restaurants made consumer and industry ears perk up.

    Remember, “a chain of five stores in New York, Gourmet Garage, sold tuna that in the New York Times test had mercury concentrations above one part per million, the Food and Drug Administration’s “action level,” at which the fish can be taken off the market.”

    Consumers are undoubtedly taking the issue seriously.

    “At Eli’s Manhattan, on New York’s Upper East Side, sales of tuna sushi were down 30 percent in the past week,” the New York Times reports in this follow-up article.

    Now the Environmental Protection Agency is stepping in and beginning to test the mercury levels of the 20 most consumed fish in the New York City area.

    I’m looking forward to reading the results.

    In the meantime, please do not view discard something as wonderful healthy as seafood as high-mercury poison.

    The real “red flag” is raised with large fish (that accumulate mercury in their system through consuming smaller fish).

    Smaller species such as salmon, tilapia, flounder, sardines, and sole are among the lowest in mercury.

    Remember, too, that mollusks and crustaceans such as shrimp, scallops, prawns, and crab are healthy low-mercury options.


    In The News: Tricky Tuna

    How coincidental.

    Slightly over 24 hours ago I posted a link to an online calculator that helps you determine how much mercury you are taking in when consuming certain fish.

    Now, an article in The New York Times reveals that abnormally high levels of mercury have been found in tuna sushi.

    Recent laboratory tests found so much mercury in tuna sushi from 20 Manhattan stores and restaurants that at most of them, a regular diet of six pieces a week would exceed the levels considered acceptable by the Environmental Protection Agency,” renowned journalist Marian Burros reports.

    In fact, fresh tuna sushi appears to contain a higher level of mercury than its canned counterpart, which is already high in the toxic mineral.

    This is one situation in which higher-priced sushi isn’t worth the extra dollars.

    More expensive tuna usually contains more mercury because it is more likely to come from a larger species, which accumulates mercury from the fish it eats.

    Excessive intake of mercury can result in skin rashes, speech impairment, and temporary memory loss.

    It is especially dangerous to pregnant women, who can detrimentally effect the neurological development of their future children.

    This increased mercury content in our waters is partially due to the government not enforcing stricter policies against coal burning plants emitting toxic minerals into the air, which ultimately end up in our waters.

    In fact, the coal lobby is such a powerful presence that initial proposals to set a limit on mercury emissions were discarded from the Clean Air Act.

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