Seafood is incredibly good for us - and there's much to learn about how to enjoy it, writes Niki Bezzant
For people living in a country with an enormous coastline, Kiwis eat surprisingly little fish and seafood.
In the most recent NZ Adult Nutrition Survey (conducted over 10 years ago) it was found that just 42 per cent of the total population aged over 15 years ate fresh or frozen seafood once or more a week, and 30 per cent ate it less than once a week. A hefty 28 per cent of the adult population said they never ate seafood.
Things may have got worse in the past 10 years. The fishmonger Sanford recently conducted a survey in which it found just 14 per cent of people ate fresh fish weekly. Sixty-six per cent of respondents were eating seafood monthly or less often.
This is a shame, for reasons of both health and deliciousness.
Fish and seafood are great foods. They're excellent sources of protein, iodine, healthy fats and some vitamins. Oily fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines are especially high in omega-3 fatty acids which are linked with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke and may benefit brain health. Fish and seafood also contain calcium, iron, selenium, thiamin and vitamin B12.
Most nutritionists and public health bodies recommend eating at least a couple of fish or other seafood meals a week; the World Health Organisation recommends 1-2 fish meals per week. Fish is a super-useful and healthy protein food.
So why are we not all doing this?
It might be one of a couple of things. Cost can be an issue; fish is perceived as expensive when compared to other types of protein. That's especially relevant when you consider that when we do buy fish, we tend to stick to the "big four" fish: hoki, snapper, gurnard and tarakihi. These are not the cheapest fish around.
It's worth noting, though, that these are not the only fish available to us. Sanford says it sells more than 90 varieties of fish and seafood, depending on the catch. And they are priced across the board; there are less expensive fish that are delicious and easy to cook, with a little bit of know-how.
That know-how bit might be another barrier. People can be a little hesitant to cook fish because they're not too confident with how to cook it well; this seems borne out by the Sanford finding that 80 per cent of people stick to pan-frying to cook their fish, every time.
But pan-frying might not be the best way to cook some species, and that might be why we experience disappointing results with unfamiliar fish.
At the Sanford event recently, we cooked a Thai-style fish curry using ling, a lesser-known fish that's perfectly suited to curries, soups, stews and that old favourite, fish pie. It's firm, meaty, and absolutely delicious – and considerably cheaper than snapper.
Likewise a fish like kahawai, which we might think of as only suitable for smoking – is actually delicious fresh, even sashimi-style. And there are tons of other often-overlooked species that are economical and delicious.
Although we should all probably be eating more fish, there is a note of caution with certain species. Fish can contain mercury, which occurs naturally in seawater. It's higher in larger species, and while most of us are never going to be exposed to enough mercury in fish to cause any worries, if we're pregnant or we eat a lot of fish it's a good idea to be aware of where mercury is found.
MPI advises women who are pregnant or are considering pregnancy to limit their consumption of some types of large fish, including marlin, southern bluefin tuna, swordfish and shark.
It also includes some freshwater fish, such as lake trout from geothermal regions. That doesn't mean you need to avoid all fish, though – it's a recommended food during pregnancy and there are many species you can eat freely. Check the MPI website for more information.
Don't forget, too, that fish comes in other forms. Canned fish is a really useful, convenient and economical food, and there are often bargains to be found in the frozen food section as well. There's nothing wrong with a frozen fish fillet as a quick solution to that last-minute dinner panic.
When you have the time, though, do think about the bounty that is fresh Aotearoa kaimoana. It's such an inspiring, delicious and healthy food. And it's absolutely no chore to eat more.