Most people’s mental image of “meat” is a thick, juicy T-bone steak. On the Paleo diet, bacon might be a close second. But while there’s nothing wrong with steak and bacon, focusing too closely on just a few kinds of animals can lead to a very limited menu of poultry, beef, and pork.
Even if you eat a variety of organs and different cuts of meat, restricting yourself to land animals like this can reduce the variety and micronutrient content of your diet, not to mention cutting you off from a whole world of delicious recipes!
Two thirds of the Earth is covered with water; fish and other types of seafood present a wide array of Paleo meal options. While it’s important to be aware of environmental issues and potential food toxins, the benefits of eating fish are far greater than the risks, making seafood one important part of a balanced diet.
Nutritional Benefits of Fish
Fish is a high-protein, low-fat food that provides a range of health benefits. White-fleshed fish, in particular, is lower in fat than any other source of animal protein, and oily fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, or the “good” fats.
Since the human body can’t make significant amounts of these essential nutrients, fish are an important part of the diet. Also, fish are low in the “bad” fats commonly found in red meat, called omega-6 fatty acids.
A growing body of evidence indicates that omega-3 fatty acids provide a number of health benefits. They:
*help maintain cardiovascular health by playing a role in the regulation of blood clotting and vessel constriction;
*are important for prenatal and postnatal neurological development;
*may reduce tissue inflammation and alleviate the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis;
*may play a beneficial role in cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), reducing depression and halting mental decline in older people.
The omega-3s found in fish (EPA and DHA) appear to provide the greatest health benefits.
Fish that are high in omega-3s, low in environmental contaminants and eco-friendly include:
*wild salmon from Alaska (fresh, frozen and canned),
*farmed rainbow trout and
*albacore tuna from the U.S. and Canada.
Fish and Seafood Recipes
There are two kinds of fish recipes: recipes for people who love fish and want to revel in it, and recipes for people who can barely stand it and want to disguise the taste as much as possible. If you find yourself hovering over the fish counter in breathless anticipation each week, you’ll want a recipe that lets the fish itself shine.
Baking or grilling a whole fish isn’t as difficult as it sounds, and makes an impressive centerpiece for a special-occasion dinner.
Eating the whole fish also has substantial nutritional benefits: the bones, eyes, and skin are all good for you. This tuna steak recipeunapologetically showcases the tuna flavor with a fresh-tasting marinade. For a light summer dinner, try some shrimp with fruity salsa or baked salmon on a bed of greens.
Canned sardines are a tasty snack on the go, and also make a delicious topping for a spinach salad – as a bonus, the fat in the sardines will help you absorb the valuable fat-soluble vitamins in the spinach.
If you’re not wild about the taste of fish but want to enjoy the health benefits anyway, try a recipe likefish tacos, which have a very mild taste if you make them with a white fish like tilapia. You can add tomatoes, herbs, and spices to disguise the flavor of the fish, or even replace half the fish with a very mild-tasting vegetable like cauliflower.
In this recipe for salmon with cherry tomato salsa, the bright, refreshing taste of the tomatoes balances out the stronger flavor of the salmon. Thanks to the potatoes in these fish cakes, the taste of the fish itself is quite mild – to further disguise it, you could eat the cakes with tartar sauce or another kind of dressing.
Seafood skeptics might also want to look beyond fish: other types of seafood contain many of the same nutrients, without the strong fishy taste. Scallops are extremely nutritious and have a very mild flavor – try them baked or pan-fried, or as a salad topper in this spicy scallop salad.
Mussels are among the most nutrient-dense foods available, and taste delicious covered in a variety of sauces, from this very sophisticated white wine sauce to a simple topping of butter and pepper.
No matter what kind of fish recipe you prefer, if you live anywhere near the coast, you’ll want to check out your local fish markets: everything tastes better when it’s fresh, and fish is no exception. A local fisherman can also answer all kinds of questions about how the fish was harvested, to help you make the most healthy and sustainable choices.
Seafoods for Paleo Conclusion
As a delicious source of many important vitamins and minerals, seafood is an important component of a balanced Paleo diet rich in high-quality animal products. Although many people are afraid of mercury poisoning, the high levels of selenium found in seafood provide an effective antidote to any mercury-related problems – if you take reasonable precautions to avoid the fish that are highest in mercury, you’ll be fine.
Another common objection to fish is sustainability: if the oceans are so devastated by overfishing, should we really be eating any seafood at all? If we’re lucky enough to have a choice about what we can eat, shouldn’t we avoid fish and give the planet a chance to recover?
Sustainability is a serious problem, and a valid concern, but by choosing to support ethical seafood, you can actually help encourage the fish industry to develop more environmentally friendly ways of producing fish, whether through better fishing methods or through sustainable fish farms.
While there’s no need to eat fish for every meal (or even every day) it’s one important part of a nourishing, balanced diet: experiment with fish recipes until you find one you like, and enjoy the chance to add a variety of nutritious recipes to your culinary routine.