The Benefits of Fish In The Diet
and The Omega-3 Fatty Acids


Gene A. Spiller, Ph.D.


Studies on the geographical distribution of diseases have shown that populations which consume fish rather than meat or other high fat products have a much lower frequency of heart disease. A classic study on the Greenland Eskimos in the early 1970's showed that this population had a much lower frequency of coronary disease than populations with meat-based diets, typical in North America. Similar studies confirmed these findings in such diverse countries as Japan and Finland.

The lower incidence of coronary disease may be attributed to the type of oil found in some species of fish. Many of the species of fish found in Alaska: salmon, herring, sablefish and others, contain specific types of polyunsaturated fat—EPA and DHA—that are part of a larger category that biochemists call Omega-3 fatty acids. It is important to note that fish do not synthesize these fatty acids. Rather, they are found in certain plankton. Small fish eat the plankton and as the food chain continues, larger fish eat the small fish containing the Omega-3 fatty acids food chain continues, larger fish eat the small fish containing the Omega-3 fatty acids.

EPA and DHA lower blood triglycerides. In laymen's terms, they may help to lower the total amount of fat found in the blood. High triglycerides are a risk factor in heart disease.

Another effect of Omega-3, but one less publicized, is on blood coagulation. EPA and DHA-lengthen blood clotting time and help prevent the abnormal blood coagulation that often leads to the formation of a clot blocking key blood vessels in the heart. In some studies, a favorable effect of Omega-3 fatty acids on blood pressure, both systolic and diastolic, has been observed.

The true value of fish in the diet lies not only in the biochemical properties of Omega-3 fatty acids but also in the replacement of saturated fats with unsaturated fats. Substituting fish for meat does more than simply add Omega-3 oils to a typical American diet; it replaces saturated fats with unsaturated fats.

Fish is nutritious in other ways as well. Each species contributes many important vitamins and minerals. All species of fish are considered to be a good source of high quality protein.

As in any other nutritional situation, other basic foods that are protective should be part of a heart-healthy diet. These good foods include whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts, vegetables oils and low fat dairy products.


Nutrition Charts

Assigning precise figures to the nutrient content of seafood is a surprisingly difficult task. Both the fat and the sodium levels can vary depending on the time of year and the method used for processing. Salmon exhibit the most dramatic change in fat content. As the salmon readies itself for spawning, it stores fat, an important source of energy, for its exhausting trip upstream. Just before spawning, a salmon may have as much as 5-10% higher fat content than it does six months prior to spawning. The type of fat found in salmon, highly polyunsaturated, remains the same. The fat content in the Alaska seafood species listed below is calculated for the time of year it is most likely to be caught.

Sodium levels vary more in seafood where salt must be added during cooking and processing such as the three varieties of crab. To be most accurate, a range of sodium has been given for these species.

Alaska Salmon
3 oz (84g) cooked
edible portion
Calories Protein(g) Fat(g) Carbo-
King (Chinook) 200 22 11.5 0 55
Sockeye (Red) 190 24 9.5 0 55
Coho (Silver) 165 24 7 0 55
Chum (Keta) 135 23 4 0 55
Pink 130 22 4 0 55
Alaska Whitefish
3 oz (84g) cooked
edible portion
Calories Protein(g) Fat(g) Carbo-
Halibut 125 23 2.5 0 60
Cod 90 20 0.5 0 80
Pollock 90 19 1 0 110
Rockfish 105 21 2 0 65
Flounder 100 21 1.5 0 90
Alaska Shellfish
3 oz (84g) cooked
edible portion
Calories Protein(g) Fat(g) Carbo-
King Crab 110 20 0.5 0 100-900**
Snow Crab 100 21 1.3 0 100-900**
Dungeness Crab 91 19.4 0.9 0 100-900**
Oysters 90 11 2.5 0 120

** Depends on cooking process

Alaska Canned Salmon
1/4 cup (63 g) serving size
Calories Protein(g) Fat(g) Carbo-
Calcium Sodium
Sockeye (Red) 110 13 7 0 94.5 270
Pink 90 12 5 0 94.5 270

Provided by Alaska Seafood


Catfish Caribbean



  • 2 T. butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped green pepper
  • 4 T. chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped toasted almonds
  • 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/4 t. oregano
  • 4 T. fresh lime juice
  • 1 T. chopped coriander (or chopped parsley)
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 4 Mississippi farm-raised catfish fillets
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 t. red pepper flakes
  • Lime peel

Melt butter in a skillet. Add green pepper and 2 tablespoons onion. sauté until onion is transparent. Add almonds, bread crumbs, oregano, 1 tablespoon lime juice, coriander and salt; mix well. Spoon filling down center of each catfish fillet. Roll up and secure with toothpicks. In shallow baking pan, combine remaining 2 tablespoons onion, water, garlic, bay leaf, red pepper flakes and remaining 3 tablespoons lime juice. Place catfish in pan. Bake in a 400 degree F oven for 30-35 minutes, basting occasionally until catfish flakes easily. Remove catfish to serving platter. Garnish with strips of lime peel.

Makes 4 serving.


Catfish Gumbo



  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup chopped green pepper
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 1 can (16 oz.) tomatoes
  • 1 package (10 oz.) frozen sliced okra
  • 1/2 t. thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 t. cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 t. oregano
  • 1 t. salt
  • 4 Mississippi farm-raised catfish fillets, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Cooked rice

Heat oil in large stock pot. sauté celery, green pepper, onion and garlic. Add beef broth, tomatoes, okra, thyme, bay leaf, cayenne pepper, oregano and salt. Cover and simmer 30 minutes. Add catfish and continue simmering 15 minutes or until catfish flakes easily. Remove bay leaf. Serve over cooked rice, if desired.

Makes 10 servings


Provided by The Catfish Institute

This page originally published as a FoodDay article in 1997.

Copyright © 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.

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This page modified January 2007

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