February 6, 2012

The impressive nutrition value of whole dried small fish

When I visited Japan a few years ago I noticed a variety of dried small fish for sale in grocery stores and supermarkets. They came in what seemed to be vacuum-packed flat plastic bags, often dried. The packing was a bit like that of beef jerky in the USA. Since I could not read the labels, I could not tell if preservatives or things like sugar were added. Beef jerky often has sugar added to it; at least the popular brands.

I have since incorporated dried or almost dried small fish, eaten whole, into my diet. My family eats it, but they don’t seem to like it as much as I do. The easiest small fish to find for sale where I live are smelts. A previous post has a recipe (). I can easily eat 200 g of smelts, about twice as much as on the plate below; not quite dried, but almost so. The veggies are a mix of lettuce and cabbage.

As you can see from the macronutrient composition below (from Nutritiondata.com, for a 100 g portion), 200 g of smelts have about 112 g of protein, and 36 g of fat. No carbohydrates; or a very small amount of them.

Unless you misguidedly think that they will “give you cholesterol”, the macronutrient to calorie ratio of a plate with 200 g of dried (or almost dried) smelts is very good. Let us take a look at the fat content, below (from Nutritiondata.com as well), which is for 100 g of dried smelts.

The “net” omega-3 content of 200 g of dried smelts, after subtracting the omega-6 content, is approximately 4.4 g. The concept of “net” omega-3 content was discussed in a previous post ().

So, the net omega-3 content of 200 g of dried smelts is the equivalent to the net omega-3 content of about 20 fish oil softgels. (Yes, you read it right!) And you would get a lot more omega-6 from the softgels.

Not to mention the fact that isolated omega-3 and omega-6 fats tend to become oxidized much more easily than when they come in “nature’s package”.

Below is the mineral content (also from Nutritiondata.com) of a 100 g portion. Dried smelts are clearly a very good source of selenium. The significant amount of calcium comes mostly from the bones, as with many varieties of small fish that are eaten whole. Combined with the above, we could say that, overall, the nutrient content is high up there next to beef liver as a super food; a natural multivitamin, if you will.

Smelts, like many small non-predatory fish, are not a significant source of toxic metals. Many people avoid seafood because of concerns about toxic metal contamination, particularly mercury. The infamous incident that led to a major scare in that respect – in Minamata, Japan – did involve consumption of small marine animals. But it also involved years of direct and indirect exposure to very high levels of methylmercury from untreated industrial waste.

Other cases have been reported among populations consuming large amounts of whale, shark, dogfish and other relatively large marine animals with tissues compromised via biomagnification. Generally speaking, large predatory fish and predatory aquatic mammals are best avoided as food. If they are consumed, they should be consumed very sporadically.

Many people would say that a plate like the one above, with smelts and veggies, is not very appetizing. But I can really devour it quickly and go for seconds. How come? I use a special spice that enhances the natural flavor or almost any combination of “natural” foods – foods that are not engineered by humans – making them taste delicious.

This special spice is “hunger”. This spice can be your best friend, or your worst enemy.

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