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Are You Eating Enough Seafood? I Wasn’t.

Sometimes I learn a lot more from a story than I’m able to fit onto the page. That was certainly the case with a seafood story that ran this month in Arlington Magazine, which I really hope you’ll take a minute to read. In the months since I reported it (I joked with the source that this was a 9-month #articlebaby), this information has changed the way I shop, order and eat seafood.

Shopping w Linda

I thought I knew plenty about seafood before I went grocery shopping with the Seafood Nutrition Partnership’s Linda Cornish earlier this year. I knew how to look up a fish’s sustainability rating, and I knew more than I probably should about invasive species, after writing about them for the Chesapeake Bay Journal, The Washington Post and others. But all that information had this odd effect: it left me leery of seafood all together, particularly when I was pregnant.

Linda Cornish started her Arlington-based nonprofit to tackle this common misperception — that seafood is too risky, too difficult to cook at home or laden with too many hard-to-understand labels. But the greater risk for many of us — especially the pregnant and nursing mums among us — is not getting enough. The USDA dietary guidelines suggest eating seafood twice a week. Twice a week!

That doesn’t sound that hard, but did you do it this week? Last week? (Note: a sushi sample at Wegmans does not constitute a serving of fish.)

For the story, Linda and another staff member took me shopping at some Arlington grocery stores to show me how to incorporate more seafood into a weekly diet while minding some sustainability pointers and without breaking the bank. I was eight months pregnant at the time and thought I understood how to navigate the guidelines about safe seafood eating while expecting. I had boiled them down to all the things I needed to avoid — but lost the focus on all the things I needed to be eating with gusto. Here’s an excerpt from the sidebar on seafood & pregnancy:

“Many pregnant women began shying away from all varieties of seafood after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a 2004 advisory warning of dangerous mercury levels in select species of fish. Though the warning applied only to certain large predators such as shark, tilefish, swordfish and king mackerel, some Americans stopped eating seafood altogether.

Just this year, the FDA revised its recommendation, stressing the dietary importance of seafood for expecting and breastfeeding moms and young children, along with a “best choice” list of the options that pose the lowest risk. For example, not all tuna is cause for mercury concern—just Bigeye, which is rarely sold in the can in the U.S. In fact, 90 percent of the seafood sold in the U.S. is naturally low in mercury, says Albersheim, who serves as communications director for the Seafood Nutrition Partnership, a national nonprofit based in Rosslyn.

Federal nutrition guidelines now encourage pregnant women to eat 8 to 12 ounces of omega-3-rich seafood per week, while supplementing with vitamins.”

After the reminder that the omega-3 fatty acids in seafood literally build baby brains, I spent the last month of my pregnancy (too little, too late?) eating ALL the seafood.

 

You can read the rest of the article in the November/December issue of Arlington Magazine and online here. But I’ll also offer you a few suggestions gleaned from that shopping trip that have changed the way I menu plan around here.

Fish dinner 1

  • Shop the frozen section. Most seafood at the fresh counter is flash frozen on the boat and then “refreshed” by slowly allowing it to thaw before it’s put on display. Unless it says “never frozen,” you’re likely paying more for fish that was frozen a day ago. Why not buy it frozen and keep it handy for weeks when you realize you haven’t hit your twice-weekly quota?
  • Be European & hit the canned aisle. If you’re a salt fiend like me, the canned seafood options are like buried treasure in the pantry. Especially when it’s noon and you think you have nothing to eat for lunch. Sardines + lettuce and dressing. That may not be something I can serve to the rest of the family, but canned anchovies-in-oil are a great, cheap protein addition for pasta or casserole night. Like, really good. After shopping with Linda, canned fish worked its way into my weekly menu rotation, mixed with whatever pasta I had on hand. Back in my pre-dairy-free days, I would toss all of that with a cream cheese-based sauce, olives and sun-dried tomatoes and call it puttanesca.
  • Don’t forget breakfast. One of the biggest lifestyle changes I’ve made to get more seafood into my diet is keeping smoked or cured salmon on hand to pile on top of toast or egg sandwiches. My favorite option right now is Ivy City Smokehouse’s cured or smoked salmons, made in D.C. and available at Wegmans in Northern Virginia.

Fish blast

 

  • Find your favorites. Think you don’t like fish? Try ordering it at the hands of some good chefs (like the ones I interviewed for the story) and give it another go. Once you find a species you like, keep it within arm’s reach. Frozen seafood thaws quickly compared with other meats and is a great option for the oh-crud-it’s-6-o’clock thing. My favorites right now? Salmon patties. Anchovy pasta (anchovies in oil and, when possible, stock up on the European versions). Blue catfish, an invasive species that’s cheap when available at Wegmans. And whatever whole fish the monger recommends that looks good that day. Another obsession: Mackerel, which can be caught off the coast of Virginia seasonally. I served it over pasta after Linda and I found it at The Organic Butcher of McLean at a really reasonable price.

Mackerel dinner

  • Consider a seafood delivery. Retailers are realizing that we need to up our seafood-eating ante, too, and are trying to make it easier. If you don’t have a good seafood market or monger nearby, consider a delivery service like Sea To Table that makes the hard choices for you. The service is also a great way to get to know by-catch species (those that are accidentally caught and otherwise wasted, despite often being delicious). As you’ll see in the story, Linda is quick to point out the farmed fish options have vastly improved over the past decade — and chefs like Robert Weidmaier agree. In the sustainably-farmed category, have you tried Leo DiCaprio’s Love The Wild options? The striped bass with red pepper sauce is a hit.

How do you weave seafood into your weekly routine?

Cheers!
Whitney

 

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