Improve My Diet Filter: Fish Edition
March 17, 2017 3:08 PM   Subscribe

I've been working on eating more healthy in an effort to drop some weight. Now I'd like to focus on improving the quality of the fish I consume.

My current starting point has been to eat salmon lox, but today I'm experimenting with tuna salad (solid white albacore in water in a can mixed with 2 tbsp of regular mayo) and baked cod fish fillet. Are the tuna salad and baked cod alternatives much more healthy compared to the salmon lox? What can I do to make the tuna salad even healthier? Should I stop eating salmon lox altogether?
posted by Gosha_Dog to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Generally, I would buy fresh fish (frozen cuts are fine, stack them in the freezer), and pan fry in a little olive oil, or oven bake (e.g. wrapped in foil). Eat with steamed veg, maybe, and rice/pasta/couscous/other carbs to taste.

The key I think is to avoid processed fish products. And maybe mayo ;)
posted by carter at 3:22 PM on March 17, 2017

One problem with salmon lox is that it is very high in sodium--around 700mg in 2oz. Your total recommended sodium intake in a day is around 1,500mg so you are getting almost 1/2 your sodium from one very small serving. There is the same issue with canned fish--though you can reduce the amount of sodium by rinsing well.

I love poached fresh salmon. It is super easy in the microwave. Just put a fillet in a dish deep enough to cover it about 1/2 way with water (I like to put some lemon or lime or orange juice in the water) and nuke it for about 3-4 mins--turn it over and go another 3-4 min. You will need to adjust them time depending on size of fillet, strength of microwave, etc. I tend to like my salmon on the rare side.
posted by agatha_magatha at 3:23 PM on March 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

What are your health goals? Lox is salty and has a bit of sugar, but I'd personally rate it over things mixed with mayo. Tuna has a lot of mercury so you shouldn't eat it every day...etc.

The best is fresh or frozen just fish, baked or pan fried with some olive oil and with healthy things like homemade fresh salsa or baked in parchment with veggies.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:24 PM on March 17, 2017

If you want to make fish a larger part of your diet, you may be interested in getting 'quality' fish in the sense of being sustainably harvested.

Monterey Bay Aquarium had a nice website and also phone apps that can help you check that angle out.

If you are concerned about mercury (and I would be if I were eating over 12 oz of tuna and salmon per week), you may be interested in switching out some salmon and tuna for things lower on the food chain, as suggested by the linked Harvard page. Mackeral, kippers, herring, sardines all can make tasty lunch salads by just swapping in that for the tuna.
posted by SaltySalticid at 3:24 PM on March 17, 2017 [5 favorites]

What can I do to make the tuna salad even healthier?

Rather than mayo, you can use low- or no-fat cream cheese. That's my favorite way to make it (well, I use regular cream cheese, but whatever!)

If you're interested in varying it up a little, you can add all kinds of stuff to it: celery, red onions, apples, tomatoes, nuts, seasonings like curry paste and pesto... this will keep it from getting boring if you eat it a lot.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:32 PM on March 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

a) use the Monterey Bay app to figure out the extremely confusing intersections between safe and sustainable fish; it's probably not that much salmon
b) poach or grill or bake that fish with a little bit of healthy oil
c) eat that

If you want to make salad, use all or part avocado as your fat. Making your mayo quickie-style at home lets you control the amount of sugar and the type of oil. (Also, I make mine with my base tuna/egg salad ingredients in it, including relish and onion, to make it a quick job to mix up with fish/egg.)

Lox is likely to be unhealthy on several axes (including the sugar it's usually cured with). Also super-expensive ounce for ounce compared to uncured fish.

For canned fish, the last time I checked the best option was canned brisling sardines in oil.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:37 PM on March 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't eat too much tuna because of the mercury issue. Personally I'd eat lox every day for breakfast if I had it; I'm not particularly concerned about sodium intake though. I would suggest including some regular salmon, preferably the King variety which contains a lot of heathy fat (and I think it's tastier than sockeye).

Also consider mackerel! Another great flavorful fish that contains good fats.
posted by joan_holloway at 3:38 PM on March 17, 2017

Salmon has more fat then most fish - which is not to say you shouldn't eat it, but you might want to vary it up with lower-fat fish. There are a bunch of charts comparing the macronutrients in different fish, here's one and here's another. Shrimp and scallops look like good bets - also crab, which you could make crab salad out of similar to tuna salad. Tilapia is also low in fat and is available just about everywhere.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:40 PM on March 17, 2017

Instead of salmon, seek out arctic char, which is nearly indistinguishable in taste. It's farmed sustainably in completely contained systems (unlike farmed salmon which is kept in pens in open water which is where the badness comes from).

I eat a half pound of char a week, divided into four portions (my packed lunch four days a week), and I poach it with rice. I just place the pieces on top of rice I'm cooking in the usual way, about ten minutes in to cooking the rice. No added fat, no salt that i don't add myself as a condiment.
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:05 PM on March 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Capers add a ton of flavor and work wonderfully with any type of fish, so adding a chopped teaspoon or so of them into a fish salad or as a topping to a piece of baked fish is a good way to boost the yumminess factor when you're cutting down on things like mayo and butter. The same idea goes for fresh chopped parsley, dill, cilantro, and tarragon - having one or more of these on hand all the time will make it so much easier to create delicious fish-centered meals without relying on fats and salts for most of the flavor.

Lox is one of the world's greatest treasures but it's definitely a sometimes food. Fresh salmon freezes great though and pink-fleshed trouts like steelhead are very similar in flavor and texture, so look for frozen fillets in your local costco or wherever and stock up. Tons of possibilities with these, but to get close to the ease and simplicity of lox try just baking a few pieces that you've topped with a glaze of melted butter orange juice and soy sauce (just enough to very lightly coat the whole fillet, only a couple tablespoons for a big piece). This will keep in the fridge for almost a week and you can just use cold chunks of it to top salads and bagels or mix with cream cheese and capers for spreads or on a platter with fresh seasonal veggies or just straight out of the fridge in the middle of the night, you animal!
posted by Mizu at 4:12 PM on March 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you do like the idea of poached salmon and capers, you may like this recipe. For optimal results, don't serve immediately, though. Cook it the day before you want to eat it and serve it cold.
posted by zorseshoes at 4:27 PM on March 17, 2017

Instead of using mayo in your tuna salad, try Greek yogurt whisked with a little lemon juice or vinegar. You can do this just as deliciously with canned salmon as with tuna by the way.
Using yogurt instead of mayo is not just a good way to cut fat but also a good way to get more calcium in your diet.
posted by flourpot at 5:08 PM on March 17, 2017

Do you like sardines at all? They are small fish so they swim at the top, not with the heavy metals. You can mix them with different sauces and smash them up - put them on salads or sandwiches, they're great.

A whole mackerel (you can buy it filleted at the fish section, it is cool to watch them slide the knife in) can be grilled and is nice on a salad with arugula and tomato. A piece of toast and melted cheese on the side works wonders with that.
posted by benadryl at 5:39 PM on March 17, 2017

Southeast Alaskan, here to plug the benefits of wild-caught salmon over farm raised.
posted by Nerd of the North at 7:57 PM on March 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Trout is one of the healthiest fish you can eat and I love chilli garlic baked trout and vegetables and it's so easy. Get a nice big fillet of trout and put it in an oven safe dish. In the same dish add some kale, tender-stem broccoli, and cherry tomatoes. Chop up some chillis and garlic and throw those on, add a couple tablespoons or so of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, mixed herbs and salt and pepper, then bake for about 20mins at 350f. The kale will get a little crispy which is nice, the trout should be just done. Add more lemon juice and devour.
posted by hazyjane at 10:07 PM on March 17, 2017

First of all, old fish is terrible, and if you don't have access to completely fresh fish, go for frozen. Thaw it in the refrigerator before cooking.
Tuna is on the top of the food chain and also should be protected, thus shouldn't be a weekly treat, we all love it in my family but we make large intervals between eating. As suggested above, we add other stuff to our tuna salad: finely chopped shallots or spring onions, tomatoes, capers and sometimes bell pepper, lemon juice to taste. I'm not scared of mayo given that this doesn't even happen once a week.
What you want for your purposes, are dishes where the fish is (mostly) steamed.
IMO, the best way to serve slices of fresh salmon filet is on spinach. First season the salmon and fry it in a knob of butter on the skin side till it is crisp. Then remove the salmon from the pan and add either well cleaned fresh spinach or frozen spinach to the pan with 1/2 cup of water (or less) and cook till it wilts, season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Put the salmon on top of the spinach, put a lid on the pan, and cook for 5 minutes. Garnish with a slice of lemon for the fish.
For cod, or other firm, flaky white fish, the technique is similar, the ingredients and tastes can be stronger: make a red sauce, based on a soffrito of slices of onion, thinly sliced celery and finely chopped garlic (bell pepper and/or a little chili or chili flakes are good here too), fry these in olive oil till the onions are translucent, nothing may burn or even brown. Add a small glass of white wine and cook off the alcohol, then add some tomato, either as a can of filets or a can of chopped tomatoes, or tomato puree. You can add herbs if you like. When the sauce is well cooked and seasoned with salt and pepper (taste!), place fillets of cod or similar fish on top of the sauce, put a lid on the pan and steam/poach for ten minutes. If you don't like the taste of wine (there should be no alcohol in the dish), add lemon juice to taste when you season. If there is left over sauce, this will be the best with (wholegrain?) linguine or spaghetti next day.

Fatty very healthy fish like herring or mackerel or trout can be cooked in paper for a fresher taste: take the whole, but filleted fish and open and season it well inside. Then put thin slices of lemon or lime and fresh herbs inside. Sage and thyme are very good here, so are basil and marjoram. I like tarragon, but not all people do. You can tie a string around each fish, to keep it all together and make it easier to handle, but it is not strictly necessary. Then put it in a packet of parchment paper and bake it in the oven according to the size of the fish. Here you can see the paper folding technique, with another recipe (you can cook everything in paper and it will be delicious and light). Serve with a salad with fennel, oranges and olives right now, or a salad of fresh greens later in spring.
posted by mumimor at 2:30 AM on March 18, 2017

A few avenues that might be worth exploring:

- Steamed whitefish sauced up with green onions+cilantro+ginger simmered in soy sauce+vinegar+sugar. Also works with a fillet.

- Moqueca - Brazilian fish stew with tomatoes, onions, & peppers in coconut milk or something similar

- Cioppino - Italian seafood stew, usually with whitefish and a whole lot of shellfish, in some sort of red sauce

- Substitute whitefish into any curry recipe

- Fish tacos -- lightly grilled salmon, flaked out a bit, works great

- Tuna/salmon poke with soba noodles or brown rice, or just sushi (deconstructed, if that's easier)

If you're buying fish that isn't frozen, make sure it's fresh. If it smells fishy and weird, it's not fresh and will not taste nearly as good. If you are facing not-so-fresh meat anyway, ginger can help cut down on the fishiness.

A dedicated fishmonger is worth going to, if only to help you through your options and give you ideas at first. Good luck!
posted by miniraptor at 9:33 PM on March 19, 2017

Thanks for everyone who posted about arctic char. Now I am excited to try it. Does anyone have a source of where I can order, either online or purchase in person within a few hours of Seattle, Portland or Spokane? (I am kind of in the middle between the three cities.)
posted by seasparrow at 7:57 AM on March 26, 2017

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