Walleye, northern and sunfish -yum! Fishing season is open in Minnesota again. Someone recently asked me about the health benefits of eating Minnesota fish and specifically wanted to know if our local fish were good food sources of the omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Some research has also shown that they have an impact on other diseases like hypertension, arthritis, and diseases that are associated with inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids are not one single nutrient or found in one specific food, but rather they are a collection of several fatty acids. Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids found mostly in seafood, and especially in higher-fat, cold water varieties such as albacore tuna, mackerel, salmon, sardines, Atlantic herring and lake trout. Omega-3s are also found in the form of alpha-linoleic acid, which converts to omega-3s. Good food sources of these include: flaxseed oil, soybean oil, canola oil and walnuts. But, unfortunately, our favorite Minnesota fish do not fall into this category, even though the water seems plenty cold at this time of the year.
The American Heart Association says that those looking to protect their hearts should eat a variety of these types of fatty fish at least twice a week. And if you don't care for fish, the plant sources can be a good substitute. For example, one ounce of walnuts (a small handful) is about equal to 3.5 ounces of salmon in omega-3s.
Even though our Minnesota varieties of fish are not good sources of omega-3s, that's not to say that eating this type of fish is still not good for us. Walleye, northern and sunfish are great sources of lean meat. A 3-ounce portion of walleye only has 1-2 grams of fat. But, remember, if you bread it, coat it, or fry it in additional fat, the fat content will certainly increase and those type of fats are typically not the "good" kinds of fat.
So what are good ways to prepare our low in fat varieties of Minnesota fish? The best advice is to try and avoid using the fry pan and adding extra fat. My sister has a grilling pan that she uses for fish on her barbecue grill that work well. You can also wrap fish in foil and fix it on the grill. You can microwave it in a covered glass dish with a little water in it and get a tasty piece of fish. But if you are looking for the traditional "fried" fish look and taste, you can try baking it in the oven rather than frying it in the pan. Following are the basics of a recipe for doing this; you can add your favorite seasonings and spices to suit your taste:
Oven Baked Fish
1/3 cup flour
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 egg (or 2 egg whites)
2 T water
2/3 cups crushed corn flakes
1 T grated parmesan cheese
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 lb fish, cut into 4 pieces
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine flour and pepper in a shallow bowl. In a second bowl, use an egg beater to combine the egg and water. In a third bowl, combine corn flakes crumbs, cheese and cayenne pepper. Wash fish and pat dry. Dredge fish in flour mixture, then egg mixture and coat with corn flake mixture. Place fish fillets on a baking sheet that has been coated with a non stick spray or is lined with tin foil. Bake at 425 degrees for 10-15 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with a fork.
Makes four servings.
Nutrition Facts: 1 serving = 160 calories, 12 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fat, 109 mg cholesterol, and 22 grams protein
(Cheryl Rude is a Registered Dietitian at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center.)