FISHY: It’s impossible to eat healthy

Mekong River Delta

The Mekong River Delta of Vietnam, supposedly one of the filthiest bodies of water in history.

Okay, I just wrote that headline to get your attention. It’s a common trick among sports writers, especially those looking to generate pageviews off the backs of my beloved Buckeyes, so I figured I’d borrow it.

What has me a little aggravated at the moment is the realization that is darn near impossible to please people today. Loyal readers will know that I’ve been on a long-term journey toward being a much slimmer me, to the tune of losing more than 70 lbs. over the past three years.

In the latest iteration of my quest, which is part personal mission and research project, I’m experimenting with some of the edicts of author and trainer Bob Harper, host of NBC’s hit television program¬†The Biggest Loser. Harper’s latest book is a quick read entitled¬†The Skinny Rules: The Simple, Non-negotiable Principles for Getting to Thin.

The concept of 20 rules to “getting thin” caught my eye, as did Bob’s admission that for most folks interested in diet and fitness (notice I mean diet, as in what you eat, as opposed to a diet, as in a fad you’re following specifically to lose weight) really just want to get skinny.

Many of Harper’s rules are mindlessly obvious (stop drinking your calories, soda head), and most follow with what I’ve already read and taken to heart in other books, such as Timothy Ferriss’ excellent treatise¬†The 4-Hour Body. Generally speaking, Harper’s rules focus on increasing protein consumption, eliminating processed carbohydrates and sugars, and learning proper portion control.

One of his rules specifically instructs adherents to eat more fish, which brings us back to the topic of the day. I love fish, but as the only fish-eater in the house, we don’t often stock up on formerly-finned fillets in our treks to Kroger or Sam’s Club. This week, however, I decided to grab a bag of frozen fish fillets at Kroger, remembering a very-fit former roommate used these a secret weapon of sorts to have a convenient source of fish, which is generally loaded with protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

The problem with fish? It seems expensive. I say “seems,” because I’m sure if I actually broke this down in terms of nutritive content per dollar spent, I’d be getting pretty good bang for my buck, but we are somewhat budget-conscious consumers here, and I wasn’t willing to spend mega bucks to experiment with fish. So, when I saw salmon fillets were a little more than $12 for a pack of 10 in the frozen fish case, I decided to dig a little for more cost-efficient alternatives.

When what to my wandering eyes should appear, but a fish I’d never heard of: Swai. Not having time to research it on the spot, I decided I’d pocket the $5 difference and give swai a try.

Fast-forward to lunch today. Swai tastes good, especially when you rub it with a little garlic salt and lemon pepper and bake it on a sheet of foil for 8-9 minutes. I put mine over a broth I’d made of chicken stock, cabbage, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower, and felt like I had an exceptionally healthy (and yummy) lunch. Only 398 calories, the bowl rocked more than 40 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber, which has me well on track to meet my nutrient goals for the day.

In sharing this story with The Fetching Mrs. Vance, she asked if I’d learned anything more about Swai, and we did a little research together. Swai is another name for iridescent shark, and is essentially an Asian catfish farmed in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam.

Blinky the Springfield SalmonHere’s where my train left the tracks: There are a lot of people out there who really hate swai for a lot of really disparate reasons. First, I found the foodies who turned up their noses because it is a bargain-basement fish. Well, them I don’t care about so much, though I must admit I rolled my eyes at their snobbery.

Then, I found the people who were totally turned off by the Mekong, because allegedly it is among the most polluted rivers in the known universe. Even better, I found that because people are still pissed off about Agent Orange, I should avoid anything that ever came from Vietnam because it will turn me into Blinky the Springfield Salmon.

What really got my gears grinding, however, is that several folks have decided to spurn farmed fish altogether because of what they eat: soybeans, most likely those derived from genetically-enhanced seed.

Yep, even in a discussion about eating fish, the evils of GMOs made a cameo appearance. What really bugs me about this is that farmed fish is a solution to a very real problem: overfishing and bycatch. Environmentalists have warned for years that the world’s oceans have been exploited to the point of detriment, and things have been improving on that front as more fish is derived from farmed sources instead of wild catch.

Now, at least some percentage of the populace is turning up its nose to a solution that is – at least in theory – more sustainable than sourcing 100% of the world’s seafood from the wild. This is the equivalent of saying we need to eat 100% feral pig or water buffalo instead of grain-fed beef from Nebraska.

You know who probably really loves this argument? The animal rights lobby, who would love nothing more than to use this thinking to supplement their message that we should all just eat less meat in the first place. If you don’t eat as much fish, we don’t have to raise as many soybeans, we don’t have to overfish the oceans, blah blah blah.

I, for one, enjoyed my lunch today, even if my after-dinner reading gave me a little non-culinary heartburn. I’m just tired of the realization that when it comes to food production, if it ain’t one thing, it’s bound to be another.

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About Andy Vance

Grains and Biofuels Editor at Feedstuffs, the weekly newspaper for agribusiness, and resident blogger at If the pen is truly mightier than the sword, I may be the most dangerous man I know...

One Response to “FISHY: It’s impossible to eat healthy”

  1. I am Vietnamese and, well, we wouldn’t think about eating those nasty fish.

    The other gross fish is eel, most comes from chinese freshwater rivers which are also horribly polluted.

    Nice blinky reference.