Improving Health By Consuming Catfish

There is no doubt that the foods we eat influence our health. Different food items contain different nutrients in various proportions and they all contribute to human health in one way or another. Fish, which is one of the food items people consume contains protein and other nutrients such as vitamin D and selenium and a specific type of fat, especially omega-3 fatty acids among other nutrients. Omega-3 fatty acid is of public health significance because it has the potential to reduce the risk of developing heart disease and other medical problems. Therefore, regular consumption of catfish has great potential to prevent against some of the non-communicable diseases, which is becoming common, even, among young Nigerian adults. However, production of catfish looks relatively low compared with the growing population. In addition, little information on health benefits of catfish is available to prospective consumers. Many of these consumers do not know much about health potentials embedded in consumption of catfish.

Most families are used to consumption of frozen fish, especially mackerel or any other types, which are sometimes preserved with chemicals that may be injurious to health. The majority of fish farmers sometimes lack technological know-how on modern methods of fish processing that can improve the shelf-life and nutrient content, thereby contributing to the economic value of the product. Although, consumption of fish has many health benefits, some types of fish may also be sources of potential dangers to consumers if some precautions are not taken before eating such fishes. Catfish contains fresh and potent omega-3 fatty acids in a better form than frozen fish that are more commonly available in many Nigerian markets today. However, the preservation methods used on catfish may undermine the nutrient content. The need for creation of awareness on fish consumption in relation to health is becoming of paramount importance to public health.

How Important is Fish in Human Diets?

Fish is a high-protein, low-fat food that provides a range of health benefits. White-fleshed fish, in particular, is lower in fat than any other source of animal protein, and oily fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, or the “good” fats. Since the human body cannot make significant amounts of these essential nutrients, fish consumption becomes an important part of the diet. Also, fish is low in the “bad” fats commonly found in red meat, called omega-6 fatty acids. Regular consumption of fish can reduce the risk of various diseases and disorders. Many studies have been conducted on fish or fish oils and their roles in the prevention or treatment of heart disease. A review in the British Medical Journal recommends fish or fish oil supplements to prevent heart attacks, particularly in people with vascular disease. The process through which omega-3 fatty acid reduce heart disease is not known, but they are known to lower blood triglycerides and blood pressure, prevent clotting, are anti-inflammatory and reduce abnormal cardiac rhythms. 

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How Fish Consumption Relations With Disease Conditions

Asthma – Children who eat fish may be less likely to develop asthma  

Brain and eyes – Fish rich in omega 3 fatty acids can contribute to the health of brain tissue and the retina (the back of the eye).

Cancer – The omega-3 fatty acids in fish may reduce the risk of many types of cancers by 30 to 50 per cent, especially of the oral cavity, oesophagus, colon, breast, ovary and prostate.

Cardiovascular disease – Eating fish every week reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke by reducing blood clots and inflammation, improving blood vessel elasticity, lowering blood pressure, lowering blood fats and boosting ‘good’ cholesterol.

Dementia – Elderly people who eat fish or seafood at least once a week may have a lower risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

 Depression – People who regularly eat fish have a lower incidence of depression (depression is linked to low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the brain).

 Diabetes Mellitus – Fish may help people with diabetes manage their blood sugar levels.

Eyesight – Breastfed babies of mothers who eat fish have better eyesight, perhaps due to the omega-3 fatty acids transmitted through breast milk

Inflammatory conditions – Regular fish consumption may relieve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and auto-immune disease .

Pre-maturity – Eating fish during pregnancy may help reduce the risk of delivering a premature baby.

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Healthy Methods of Preparing Catfish for Consumption

Preparation methods may influence the nutrient content and palatability of catfish. Observational study has shown that many do not know the best procedure to prepare catfish for consumption. After cutting to remove the intestine and the gills, catfish should be thoroughly washed to reduce the slimy nature. Different methods are used to do this; while some use alum others may use lime ash. Catfish is best prepared by seasoning with tomatoes and onions with little salt and/or bouillon cubes and boiled in very little water until the flesh is done, without blood. This can now be eaten this way or transferred to any sauce or fried depending on an individual’s preference. Addition of tomatoes and onions increases the nutrient content of the flesh of catfish, especially the anti-oxidant micronutrients. Other means of treating catfish after seasoning include:

  • Baking – make shallow cuts along the top of the fish. Put into a greased dish and cover with foil. Flavour with herbs, lemon juice and olive oil. Bake at around 180°C and baste frequently.
  • Shallow frying – dry and flour the fish. Place a small amount of oil or butter in the pan. Fry the fish at a medium heat.
  • Grilling – cut slashes into whole fish to help the heat penetrate the flesh. Place fish on a preheated grill. Baste frequently.
  • Poaching – not suitable for flaky varieties. Place fish in gently simmering stock. Whole fish should be placed in a pan of cold stock, which is then slowly brought up to a gentle simmer.
  • Steaming – put fish in a steamer or on a plate over a saucepan containing gently boiling water.

Preservation of Catfish 

Catfish begins to spoil immediately after harvesting, unless it is treated in very clean water and refrigerated. This is reflected in gradual developments of undesirable odour, softening of the flesh and eventually substantial losses of fluid containing protein and fat. By lowering the temperature of the dead fish, spoilage can be retarded and, if the temperature is kept low enough, spoilage can almost bet stopped. The freezing process alone is not a method of preservation. It is merely the means of preparing the catfish for storage at a suitably low temperature. In order to produce a good product, freezing must be accomplished quickly. A freezer requires to be specially designed for this purpose and thus freezing is a separate process from low temperature storage. 

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