Do you like eating fish? We know it’s good for you, right? Right.

Fish is a terrific source of protein which is low in saturated fat. Fish contains the minerals zinc selenium and iodine, which are beneficial for everybody, but especially for anyone with low thyroid function. These minerals along with the fat soluble vitamins A and D found in many species of fish are particularly good for the immune system and work in a synergistic way.  The nutrient for which fish is most revered is for its high levels of  the essential fatty acids DHA and EPA (Omega 3s).

The omega 3 fats are classed as “essential fats”, because our body cannot make them, so we must consume them. The standard Western diet is deficient in these important nutrients.

Omega 3s benefit us in a number of ways.

Every nerve cell in your body and brain is insulated by a substance called myelin. Myelin is made of Omega 3 fats. If you don’t have enough myelin then your nerves can literally short circuit and important messages may not get through properly. This is why Omega 3s are so important for brain health. Getting enough Omega s can help to ward off or lessen the severity of conditions like depression and dementia.

Omega 3s are also anti-inflammatory. Many health conditions stem from inflammation, Cardio-vascular disease, arthritis and age related macular degeneration (eye health) to name a few.

They help to regulate blood sugar, so are an important nutrient for people with insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Omega 3 fats can also improve cholesterol levels, improve blood vessel elasticity and lower blood pressure.

Omega 3 fats are a hugely important nutrient for our health, and fish, especially cold water oily fish are the best (but not the only source). To remember which fish are the cold water oily types remember the acronym “SMASH”, which stands for Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovies, Sardines and Herring.


Omega 3 content of fish per 100gms

Atlantic Salmon                                                                333mg

Canned Salmon                                                                333mg-666mg

Canned sardines                                                              1000mg

Canned tuna                                                                      200- 333mg

Gem fish                                                                            333mg

Barramundi, Snapper, John Dory                               130-200mg


So how much Omega 3’s do you need?

The Heart Foundation recommend 500mg of Omega 3 fats per day to prevent cardiovascular disease, or 1000mg per day if already diagnosed. Arthritis Victoria suggest that 2.7gms of Omega 3s are needed every day for arthritis Management.  That’s a fair bit. Even eating three serves of fish a week is not going to get you there. So if you need more omega 3’s a supplement is the answer.  There are good and bad fish oil supplements out there, but that is a subject worthy of its own article (note to self). Let me know if I can make a recommendation for you.


What about contaminants?

It is true that fish can have mercury or other heavy metals, Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins and pesticide residues.  Mercury can damage nerves in adults and disrupt development of the brain and nervous system of an unborn child or baby. PCBs and Dioxins are neurotoxic ie. they  damage and kill brain and nerve cells, and are also endocrine disruptors, ie. they mess with hormone balance.

The best way to avoid these contaminants is to only eat small fish that are fast growing.  Avoid the large fish like Shark, Swordfish, Barramundi,  Gem fish, Orange Roughy and Southern Bluefin tuna.

Another fishy fish to be wary of is “white tuna” at your favourite sushi bar. White tuna is the stage name for a fish called Escolar. Escolar has indigestible waxy sterols which might make you sick! I don’t know how much “white tuna” is sold in Australia, but it does raise the very really issue of deceptive labeling, a practice that thankfully is improving.

 Sustainable Small Fish species

According to the Australian Marine Conservation Society, sustainable and local small fish include, flat head, whiting, yellow-eye mullet (not popular, so should be cheaper), trevally, rock ling, black bream, garfish, fresh sardines and squid.   Greenpeace explain that smaller fast growing species can replenish more quickly, and fish lower in the food chain are generally better for our oceans and for your health

A guide to sustainable species in Victoria is available at:


Wild caught or farmed?

This was originally going to be an article bagging farmed Salmon, but once I started researching more, I had to get off my soap box, and weigh the pros as well as the cons.

Farmed Salmon live in enclosed pens either attached to the mainland or not far from shore. They are fed a diet of fish meal, fish oil and pellets made from vegetables and land animals. Land animals! I was ready to start bashing; since when do fish crawl up on the land and chow down on a chicken! It seems wrong to feed the fish something other than their natural diet. They also add carotenoids to the feed and water to make the salmon that lovely pink colour the market demands, whereas wild salmon get the colour from eating krill (naturally red).

To put a positive spin on it, the Salmon producers’ literature explain that they strive to be sustainable, and to be “nett”  fish producers; meaning that they grow more fish than they use for feed.  That is a noble goal, but aren’t you introducing problems and disease by feeding an animal something other than what nature intended?

Yes, but Humans eat lots of things that aren’t natural (to our detriment), and cattle are fed grains, or are often finished on grains to fatten them for slaughter, and that’s not natural either. Grains are quite inflammatory to any animal, including us that wouldn’t naturally consume them. It is all about profits for meat producers, but they also need to be able to feed enough cattle year round to keep up with demand from a growing population who want cheaper food.

So it looks like we need to be practicable about these things.  According to Rex Hunt in an article in the Age in 2005, farming practices in Tasmania have made “spectacular” gains and the quality of farmed fish is almost as good as wild.  I wanted to get upset by antibiotic use, crowded quarters breeding disease and the like, but a lot of effort goes into managing this, and it is a necessary part of food production these days to keep the animals and us safe.


Most fish consumed in Australia is imported! Nooooo!

Wild caught fish will always be superior, but not always available, even when in season. Catching fish in wild, unpredictable seas and getting it to market in pristine condition is not as easy as it sounds. I bet if you went out on a fishing boat in the middle of the night, you’d soon appreciate the price of fish!

2/3rds of the fish we eat in this country is imported. Nile perch from Africa and Basa from the Mekong Delta make up a large proportion. If you don’t specify what type of fish you want at your favourite chippy, then this is what you are probably getting.  The supermarkets control over 60% of the market and dictate terms no doubt.  In an article for in 2012, “Susman, owner of seafood consultancy group Fishheads, likens such imported products to the advent of cask wine, saying their presences has allowed more people to eat seafood.”  Perhaps it’s time for us to refine our palates and learn a new appreciation for the beautiful produce on our own door step.


Aussie fish 

Atlantic salmon is not native to Australian waters, but there is an Australian salmon. It’s plentiful and cheap too, but because it doesn’t taste as nice (apparently), almost all of it goes into pet food! If you see “Bonito”, this is Australian Salmon, give it a try.

Victoria has some great local seafood, but unfortunately a lot of it goes straight on a plane to Sydney, or further afield to Japan, because these markets are prepared to pay a better price. 75% of our catch is exported! It seems Victorians just don’t appreciate fish enough to pay the high prices. I have to confess I also fall in that camp. I love Flathead, snapper, whiting and Salmon, but the price per kilo is out of my budget most of the time.

But let’s pause and put things into perspective. Whole fish is cheaper than fillets, but with fillets you do eat 100% of the product, so there’s no waste. Salmon is a favourite in our house, and we probably have it once a week. At under $30 a kilo a 100gm piece of Salmon is only $3. Even a 150gm piece (common portion sold) is less than $5. Perhaps like everything we eat bigger portions than we need to.

Tinned Salmon, tuna and sardines are extremely good value for the amount of Omega 3s within. Look for brands that state they are wild caught, including the Aldi brand, and you are on to a real winner.  Suddenly three serves of fish a week doesn’t seem so hard.

Naturally when you buy produce that is in season the quality should be good and a fair price.  Click Here for a seasonality guide to seafood in Victoria; a really great resource. 


 In summary

Fish is a great protein source with many health benefits, Omega 3 fatty acids being just one.  Don’t be afraid to experiment and maybe try a variety you haven’t had before.  Pan frying or oven baking fish really is quick and simple, but like anything you’ve just got to give it a go.  Doing anything for the first time takes effort and thought, but the rewards are worth it!  Who wants to eat the cask wine equivalent when there is so much beautiful fresh fish to enjoy?

Keep a few tins of salmon, tuna, sardines, anchovies and mackerel in your pantry, and you’ve always got a healthy and affordable meal option on hand. Do your brain, your heart and your eyes a favour and eat more fish, from Australia,  sustainable small ones of course!