Plenty more fish in the tea - Nutrition

Fish has the X-factor when it comes to health benefits, says Jane McClenaghan

Sardines pack an omega 3 punch (Alamy/PA) (Alamy Stock Photo)

Fish has long been hailed as a healthy food and is a key ingredient in some of the world’s healthiest diets - from the Mediterranean to the Nordic diet, fish is one of those foods that has the X-factor when it comes to health benefits.

If you want to shake your menu up a little bit, add variety and flavour to your midweek meals and eat well on a budget, then you are onto a winner if you like fish.

Here are just a few reasons to put fish on the menu:

Rich in omega 3 fats

Of course, all fish has benefits, being a source of lean protein and rich in vitamins and minerals, but oily fish have extra special benefits thanks to their high content of long chain fatty acids.

The long chain, polyunsaturated fats that are found in oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, trout and anchovies are well researched for their anti-inflammatory effects and have been associated with benefits for heart health, eyesight, circulation, hormones and neurotransmitter balance.

EPA and DHA are the omega 3 fats found in oily fish and it is recommended that we consume oily fish two-three times a week for optimal benefits.

Tinned, fresh or frozen fish are all good choices.

Long chain, polyunsaturated fats found in oily fish like salmon have anti-inflammatory effects that benefit heart health, eyesight, circulation, hormones and neurotransmitter balance
Long chain, polyunsaturated fats found in oily fish like salmon have anti-inflammatory effects that benefit heart health, eyesight, circulation, hormones and neurotransmitter balance (Tatiana Atamaniuk/Getty Images)
A good source of protein

As many of us become more aware of the importance of getting enough protein in our diets, we are looking for a little bit of variety and new ideas. A portion of fish contains around 20-25g protein.

Sardines with beetroot, red onion and salad greens on toast makes a quick and easy lunch that hits the protein mark to keep you feeling full all afternoon.

Try different ways of cooking fish at teatime. White fish is great poached in Thai curry spices and coconut milk, or try serving oily fish like mackerel with a tasty salsa verde – simply whizz up some fresh green herbs (parsley, coriander, mint, basil – whatever you fancy), a squeeze of lemon juice, a touch of mustard, a few anchovies (for extra omega 3 points) and a glug of good quality olive oil. Serve with rice or potatoes and plenty of vegetables for a quick, easy and tasty dinner.

Local and sustainable

One of the great things about oily fish is that we don’t have to look too far afield to find really high quality and sustainable sources.

From mackerel and salmon to trout and herring, these oil-rich fish are in abundance on our shores.

When it comes to choosing fish, one of the most important issues is how the fish has been caught and whether it is from sustainable sources. Look out for the little blue MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) flag on packaging. If you buy from a local supplier, ask whether the fish they are selling is from a sustainable source. Choose fish that is good for the planet as well as good for your health.

Eat well for less

We are all trying to make our pennies go a little further these days, especially with the rising costs at the supermarket checkout. Salmon and seabass can be quite expensive, so save these for an occasional treat, and look for other fish that work out a lot more affordable.

  • Mackerel
  • Sardines
  • Anchovies
  • Whiting
  • Coley

Take a look in the freezer section in your supermarket and don’t forget tinned fish too. There is always a way to include fish in your diet regardless of your budget.

Want to explore more?

As part of the events at this year’s Northern Ireland Science Festival, Paula McIntyre will be hosting a family-friendly workshop, with ideas for how to choose, prepare and cook delicious meals using fresh local fish. Paula will be joined by local scientists who will discuss the health benefits of eating fish, improving environmental sustainability and supporting the fishing industry in Northern Ireland.

Paula says: “I want to get people thinking about fish as an alternative to chicken as a good protein source. I will be showing dishes that are quick and user friendly.”

Join Paula on Thursday February 15, from 2-5pm, at Portrush Yacht Club