Fish, which has immense nutritional value surprisingly, does not form part of the typical diet in most parts of the country, even among non-vegetarians. While it is popular in Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand and some parts of Andhra Pradesh and the North, in metro cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow, it is consumed only by a section of the population. The reason for fish-eating population in the North being low is primarily because of preference for chicken and eggs, and others following a vegetarian diet. Likewise, in the South the demand for fish is relatively low.
What many are not aware is that there is a large variety of fish–about 250, which can be consumed. The ones which have a bony skeleton are called Fin Fish and the rohu (Labeo Rohita) and katla (Katle Katle) varieties fall into this category. Fishes which do not have any skeleton but are covered with a layer are the Shell Fish, which is bred in saline water and are two types, Moluscus and Crustacean. While popular prawns belong to the latter, there is also another category of sea fish including hilsa, red snapper and the pomfret.
The nutritional value of fish is of a very high order. According to doctors and nutritionists, the human body needs an intake of fish because of its high protein value. All types of fish – from rohu to hilsa to silverkarp – have vitamin B, amino acids and also calcium, zinc, iron, thallium, phosphorus apart from protein. Though the protein content in fish is around 20 per cent, less than meat, the former is more beneficial to human health.
The main benefit of eating fish as opposed to meat is that it is far healthier. While fish particularly is very low in fat and calories and should be the preferred diet specially for those who are dieting. This apart, fish does not contain saturated fats, like all meat products and by-products such as butter, cheese and milk.
Although some variety of fish (from the sea) may be slightly more calorific and fatty than others, one does not need to worry. These are the healthier polyunsaturated fats, which include omega-3, essential fatty acids that benefit the body and help check occurrence of certain diseases. Beneath the skin of the fish the fat is actually its oil, which is termed omega 3 fatty acid and is of three types: alpha linolenic acid (ACA), ecosa pentaneoic acid (EPA) and decoshaxnoeic acid (DHA). Both EPA and DHA can be extremely helpful to counter heart diseases as also increase our immunity power. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), if a person consumes 50 gm of fish a day, at least three times a week, heart problems can be effectively contained.
One may not have also noticed that capsules which are advised for keeping the joints healthy and supple contain fish oils such as cod or halibut liver oil. Additionally, it is highly recommended that those suffering digestive disorders or who generally feel weak or under the weather should opt for a light fish meal as it is easy to digest. Children, lactating mothers and the elderly would do well in including fish in their diet.
Importantly, the diet too can be interesting. Fish can be served boiled, grilled, steamed, baked, fried, deep-fried, smoked, pickled, soused, stewed or poached either in a sandwich, pie, tartlet, salad, croquette, fish cake, whole, in breadcrumbs, battered, in a pastie or simply on a toast. While it can be had for breakfast, lunch or dinner, in India it is generally consumed during lunch. Another great advantage is that there being many varieties of fish available, and one may never have to eat the same fish more than once a week or fortnight.
Say for the Bengalis, hilsa, is a big favourite. In this fish, omega3 fatty acid is very high which checks cholesterol and obesity, helps those having diabetes and controls arthritis and osteoporosis. Those suffering from schizophrenia or depression or diagnosed with prostrate cancer or breast cancer should find this fish helpful. However, it is expensive and unfortunately beyond the reach of the common man.
On the other hand, the most consumed fish falls in the class of rohu, which has high protein and carbohydrate value. It too has levels of omega3 fatty acids which is good for the heart, other than Vitamin B thanks to its size. However, in some of the bigger varieties, the oily substance in the head and some parts of the body leads to high cholesterol and saturated fat, and thus doctors recommend the smaller ones.
Fish eaters are well aware that the small fish varieties, which are comparatively lower priced, have greater nutritional value. All types of essential nutrients, especially B12, calcium, phosphorus and omega3 fatty acid, are there. Fish, which is normally eaten whole (from the head to the end) should as a habit be included in ones diet, at least three times a week, if not more.
Among low-priced fish, mention may be made of lotte which has more or less the same characteristics of cod fish. The liver of this fish has sufficient quantities of Vitamin A and Vitamin D, which keeps a person’s bones, eyes and skin in good form and helps prevent diseases. The content of fat is low and calcium and phosphorus high. Another low cost fish is bhola (Serranus Lanceolatus) which though has small quantities of calories is rich in calcium, phosphorus and protein. It is highly recommended for growing children. The oil of the fish which creates EPA and DHA keeps the brain and nerves in order and helps develop intelligence in the young ones.
However, there is an unwarranted glitch. The supply is becoming increasingly inadequate as fish cultivation has not substantially increased. As a result certain varieties are rarely available leading to spurt in prices. Efforts need to be made to ensure adequate supply so that the doctors and nutritionists advice on fish intake has many more takers.