- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2006

If your schedule is packed as tightly as your jeans the day before a diet, you may think you don’t have time to cook healthful meals.

Juggling the right combination of ingredients to produce a nutrient-packed meal can seem daunting, but if you start with fish and seafood, you can prepare healthful and delicious meals in minutes.

Fish should be included on your menu once or twice a week because of its benefits, say nutrition experts. Substituting fish and seafood, which are low in calories and saturated fat, for high-fat red meat makes sense, says Alice Lichtenstein, professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts in Boston and an expert on heart health.

Compare a 4-ounce naked hamburger with a baked red snapper fillet of the same weight. The burger delivers about 300 calories and 20 grams of fat. The fish has half the calories and one-tenth the fat, a total of 2 grams.

Take an extra step and add fatty fish such salmon, sardines and herring to your dinner plans, and you’ll reap an additional bonus.

Fatty fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a type of fat that may reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, macular degeneration and asthma.

If you’re a woman of child-bearing age, consuming fish high in omega-3 fatty acids gets your baby off to a good start.

“Women should be consuming fish on a regular basis during their childbearing years,” says Joyce Nettleton, a nutrition scientist in Denver.

“If a mother consumes fish, her baby is off to a better head start in life,” says Miss Nettleton, editor of the PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acid) newsletter. She points to research showing that omega-3 fatty acids are vital for proper development of the baby’s brain.

Although much of the research on omega-3 fatty acids is incomplete, scientists make a convincing argument that eating more fatty fish is good for your heart.

“Data in the general population suggests that people who eat two or more servings of fish a week have a lower incidence of heart disease,” says Miss Lichtenstein, who adds that oily fish is the recommendation.

You don’t need to consume a large quantity of fish to reap the nutritional rewards.

“A couple of servings [each the size of a deck of cards] is sufficient for a big reduction in coronary heart disease,” says Eric Rimm, an associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.

When menu planning, choose recipes for broiled, baked, grilled or sauteed fish and seafood. Frying can double the calorie and fat content of a fish or seafood dish.

And when your life is in overdrive, bring out the can opener. Canned salmon and sardines yield almost instant meals, and the bones in these canned fish provide valuable calcium.

The following fish or seafood entrees can be made in 30 minutes or less and can even jump-start a weight-loss diet, in case those jeans are just a little too snug.

Sardine and black-eyed pea salad

2 cups cooked black-eyed peas (see note)

1 4.25-ounce can sardines packed in oil, drained and broken into bite-size pieces

1/4 cup chopped scallions

1 tablespoon capers

1/4 cup chopped celery

1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/4 teaspoon pepper, or to taste

1 tablespoon olive oil

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1½ to 2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley, optional

In a large bowl, combine peas, sardines, scallions, capers and celery. In a cup, stir together salt, pepper, oil, lemon zest, lemon juice to taste and parsley, if using. Pour over salad. Toss gently but well. Makes 4 servings.

Note: If using canned black-eyed peas, rinse and drain first.

Each serving has 200 calories; 7 grams fat; 12 grams protein; 30.5 grams carbohydrates; 40.5 milligrams cholesterol; 700 milligrams sodium and 4.25 grams dietary fiber.

Baked yams with salmon, sour cream topping

1 14.75-ounce can traditional pack Alaska salmon, drained and flaked

Baked yams with salmon, sour cream topping

1 14.75-ounce can traditional pack Alaska salmon, drained and flaked

4 (about 8 ounces each) medium yams or sweet potatoes

1 cup reduced-fat sour cream

3 tablespoons minced fresh chives

Salt and pepper

1 teaspoon drained white horseradish, optional

Salad greens, optional

Remove skin from salmon; keep bones but break up (bones supply calcium). Set salmon aside. Pierce yams or sweet potatoes in several spots with a fork. Microwave on high for 8 to 10 minutes, turning once or twice, or until fork tender. Remove yams from heat.

Make a slash down the center of each yam to open up. Combine sour cream, chives, salt and pepper to taste and horseradish, if desired. Top each yam with a dollop of sour cream. Top with salmon chunks and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with salad greens, if desired. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving has 356 calories; 11 grams fat; 25 grams protein; 39 grams carbohydrates; 78 milligrams cholesterol; 754 milligrams sodium and 4 grams dietary fiber. Each serving also has 1.8 grams omega-3 fatty acids.

Salmon with fennel, onion and white bean salad

This recipe for salmon with fennel, onion and white bean salad comes from Stefani Mamon, chef for Alaska’s governor.

6 (4- to 6-ounce) salmon steaks, fresh or thawed, if frozen

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

White bean salad (recipe follows)

Orange-tomato sauce (recipe follows)

Rinse any glaze off frozen salmon, if using. Pat dry with a paper towel. Heat a heavy nonstick skillet or ridged stovetop grill over medium-high heat. Brush both sides of salmon with oil.

Place salmon in heated skillet and cook, uncovered, for 3 to 4 minutes on one side or until browned.

Shake pan occasionally to keep fish from sticking.

Turn salmon over and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cover skillet tightly and reduce heat to medium.

Cook for 6 to 8 minutes for frozen salmon or 3 to 4 minutes for fresh or thawed salmon, or until fish is opaque throughout.

While fish is cooking, prepare white bean salad and orange-tomato sauce.

To serve, place ½ cup of the bean salad on each of 6 plates. Place 1/4 cup of sauce around beans and top with fish. Makes 6 servings.

WHITE BEAN SALAD

2 15-ounce cans white beans, drained and rinsed

1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced

1 tablespoon fennel top greens, minced

1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

Combine beans, fennel and fennel greens, onion, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl. Set aside.

ORANGE-TOMATO SAUCE

3 5.5-ounce cans tomato juice

2 tablespoons frozen and thawed orange juice concentrate

Salt and pepper

Combine tomato juice, orange juice concentrate and salt and pepper to taste in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and keep warm.

Each serving has: 444 calories; 16.5 grams fat; 34 grams protein; 40 grams carbohydrates; 84 milligrams cholesterol; 386 milligrams sodium and 8 grams dietary fiber.

Each serving also has 1 gram omega-3 fatty acids.

Shrimp tortilla soup

½ cup chopped onion

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 to 2 tablespoons canned chopped jalapeno chilies, or to taste

1 teaspoon cumin

½ to 1 teaspoon chili powder, to taste

4 cups fat-free chicken broth

2 cups white wine

1 large bay leaf

1 pound cooked shrimp, divided

1 cup cooked corn, optional

Juice of half a lime

Salt

6 tablespoons corn chip pieces

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

8 teaspoons shredded cheddar cheese

6 warm corn tortillas

In a Dutch oven, saute onion in oil until tender, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and chilies and saute for 1 minute, or until garlic is softened and fragrance is released. Add cumin, chili powder to taste, broth, wine and bay leaf, and simmer 15 minutes. Set aside 6 shrimp for garnish. Add remaining shrimp, corn, if using, and lime juice to soup, and simmer until heated through, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt. Pour hot soup into bowls, and top each bowl with 1 shrimp and corn chips, cilantro and cheese. Serve with warm corn tortillas on the side. Makes 6 servings.

Each serving (with corn; without added salt and without corn tortillas) has: 240 calories; 6 grams total fat; 18 grams protein; 14 grams carbohydrates; 120 milligrams cholesterol; 565 milligrams sodium; 1 gram dietary fiber.

Look to fish for fat that’s good

Fatty fish sound like a species that needs a few laps around the gym, but the phrase refers to fish that have rich flavor and higher than average fat content.

Salmon, for example, contains four to five times as much total fat as a comparable serving of red snapper. However, what’s really capturing the attention of food scientists is omega-3 fatty acids, a form of fatty acids prevalent in some fish, that may have disease preventive qualities.

Salmon, herring, halibut and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Shellfish have about one-fourth the omega-3 fatty acid of fish, but can also be a part of diets because they’re low in fat and calories.

Women who are pregnant, nursing or feeding young children may be concerned about mercury levels in the fish they are serving.

Salmon, herring, Atlantic mackerel and sardines are low in mercury, according to the Food and Drug Administration. For more information, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition, www.cfsan.fda.gov.

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