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Why Fish Is a Healthy Protein, And How To Get More Of It

Natalie Stein
August 31, 2020
Why Fish Is a Healthy Protein, And How To Get More Of It

Getting more protein may be on your priority list for any number of reasons. For example, replacing a few carbs with protein can help you lose weight by filling you up and reducing carb cravings. Another reason to look to protein is to lower blood sugar if you have prediabetes or diabetes. Fish protein is a great solution and is among one of the best sources.

What Is a “Healthy Protein?”


Protein already has the benefit of being an essential nutrient, as it is necessary for maintaining lean muscle mass, and is needed for immune function and every other function of your body. If you are looking to lose weight, it is good to know that protein is a slow nutrient to digest, so it can keep you full for longer than simple carbs such as sugar. In addition, protein helps stabilize blood sugar – good news if you have diabetes or prediabetes.

A “healthy protein food” is a high-protein food that is considered healthy as a whole. It is low in saturated fat, which is why most experts do not consider fatty red meat and chicken or turkey with skin to be healthy. “Healthy proteins” are usually natural sources of additional essential or beneficial nutrients. 

These are some of the proteins that are usually considered “healthy.”

  • Beans, peas, and lentils: sources of fiber, potassium, and iron.
  • Eggs: source of most nutrients except vitamin C.
  • Low-fat cheese and yogurt: source of calcium.
  • Skinless chicken: source of vitamin B6 and iron.
  • Fish and shellfish: sources of B vitamins, copper, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Protein in Fish


Fish protein is among the best sources of protein. A 3-ounce serving of fish has about 17 grams of protein. In comparison, a 3-ounce serving of skinless chicken breast has 20 grams of protein, a half-cup of cooked lentils has 9 grams, and an egg has 6 grams of protein. A 1-ounce serving of bacon has 4 grams of protein, and a 2-ounce serving of sausage has 8 grams. 

For context, the recommended daily intake of protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. If you weigh 154 pounds, you need about 56 grams of protein per day. If you weigh 198 pounds, you need about 72 grams of protein per day.

Fish and Weight Loss


Fish may be one of the best foods for weight loss, as it is high in satisfying protein and low in calories. A 3-ounce serving of tilapia has 80 calories, and a 3-ounce serving of salmon has 120 calories. That is definitely a good choice when compared to a 2-ounce serving of summer sausage with 180 calories or a 3-ounce beef burger patty with 270 calories.

Not only is fish high in protein, but it is also free from carbs. That is not only helpful on a low-carbohydrate diet, but also when you are trying to get rid of sugar and starch cravings so you can say no to temptations and lose more weight.

Health Benefits of Omega-3s in Fish


Seafood has a unique benefit. They contain a type of fat known as long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. The most famous ones in fish are EPA and DHA, and they are linked to health benefits such as:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduced chronic inflammation
  • Better mood
  • Lower risk for preterm birth
  • Lower risk for age-related macular degeneration (a source of vision impairment)

In addition, fish have a very low ratio of unhealthy fats to healthy omega-3s.

Best Sources of Omega-3 Fats


All fish have a bit of fat, but fatty fish are the best sources of omega-3s. Salmon may be the best-known source, but canned light tuna, herring, anchovies, and sardines are good sources that are not too high in mercury. 

Certain plant-based foods have omega-3 fats, but it is a different type. Your body can only convert a limited amount of it into EPA and DHA, which is a reason why seafood is so unique. Flaxseed, walnuts, canola oil, and soybeans have some omega-3s.

Avoiding Mercury Risks


Fish can contain an environmental contaminant called mercury, but you can lower your risk by avoiding the species that are highest in mercury. The biggest fish tend to accumulate the most mercury by virtue of having the most fat to store it in. These are higher-mercury species to limit or avoid.

  • King mackerel
  • Orange roughy
  • Shark
  • Albacore, yellowfin, bluefin, and bigeye tuna
  • Tilefish
  • Swordfish

Ideas For Serving Salmon and Other Fish


If fish is not already part of your healthy eating plan, it might be a good idea to think about including it. Aim to have fish 2 to 3 times to get your weekly fix of fish protein. To make a balanced meal, it helps to serve fish with vegetables and a whole grain or starchy vegetable.

There are so many ways to prepare salmon and other fish that there are sure to be some that appeal to your taste buds. These are a few ideas for preparing salmon and other types of fish.

Plain:

Grilled, broiled, baked, or pan-seared, fish is tasty plain or with lemon. It can be served with brown rice and steamed vegetables for a balanced lunch or dinner.

In a pouch:

Place the fish and your choice of cut vegetables on a piece of foil, drizzle with olive oil, add a sprig of rosemary or thyme, fold to make a packet, and bake or grill the packet.

Instead of ground beef or turkey:

Use cooked fish instead of ground beef or turkey in dishes such as chili, tacos, and even meatballs.

With pasta:

Toss cooked fish with tomato sauce, olives, artichokes, and whole-grain spaghetti.

Coated:

Spritz fish fillets with olive oil and rub them in parmesan, almond meal, or crushed pecans to coat them. Bake on a baking sheet with foil sprayed with cooking spray.

In a patty:

Mix drained canned salmon or tuna, oats, beaten eggs, diced celery and onion, mustard, garlic powder, and oregano or cumin and form into patties. Then bake. Optional: try with other vegetables, such as diced mushrooms or carrots, and experiment with spices. Serve on a whole-grain bun or with baked sweet potato fries and a side salad.

For breakfast:

Spread half a whole-grain bagel with low-fat cottage cheese and top with canned salmon or tuna. Serve with fruit.

Frittata:

Make a frittata with fish instead breakfast meat, plus eggs, spinach, butternut squash, and feta or goat cheese.

As leftovers:

Cooked fish is great on salads, or in stir fries, stews, and casseroles.

Fish Is A Healthy Protein

If you are looking for a way to add protein to your diet and at the same time, improve health, fish may be the way to go. It is one of the healthiest proteins, as it is low in unhealthy fat and rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Lark can help you get more fish in your diet and offer other ideas for healthy choices.

Written by Natalie Stein on August 31, 2020
Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health
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