When thinking about frozen fish, you may picture those little flavorless rods that have been posing as fish since the 1950s. Well, I have good news: Frozen fish has gotten a makeover and should be in competition for a position on your dinner table. For those of you over the age of 30, which includes me as well, you will probably remember how gross frozen food was. Most of us had frozen berries as a child and retain the memory of taking them out of the freezer, only to be disappointed by the mushy resemblance of their former selves. The good news is things have changed for the better, and that is an understatement.
When new clients comes to see me with a diagnosis of obesity, one of my first questions is, "Are you eating seafood?" The usual answer is something along the lines of, "once a month or less." The major complaints are the messiness of preparation, lack of cooking knowledge, and fishy smell. I tell them to head to the grocery store, bypass the fresh fish section, and keep on walkin' to the icy nutrition-packed area of frozen goods.
After they give me the, "you're crazy" face, I tell them about IQF. The term IQF stands for Individually Quick Frozen. Foods that are IQF are sent into a blast-freezer that freezes the item very quickly. This lightning fast process does not allow time for the ice crystals that damage the cells of the food to form, resulting in a more consistent product with very high integrity and nutritional quality. In other words, no more tasteless cardboard "fish" sticks or mushy berries.
Now that we know IQF frozen foods are going to taste better than the frozen foods of the yester-years, here are three reasons frozen fish may just be healthier for you than its fresh counterparts:
Contamination. So I know we all want to buy fish right from the sea, but the truth is that by the time you even see the ingredients you eat, they have had a life before you. Yes, not only did that fish have a life in the sea but also quite the journey in their afterlife. The "fresh" fish has been moved from fisherman to transport truck, to distribution center, to grocer, and then again from the store to your house. The more links in this chain of distribution, the more opportunity for contamination. In fact, if you are immunocompromised (have a weakened immune system) savefood says that frozen fish may be the safer option. IQF fish is usually blast-frozen as soon as possible and placed in vacuum sealed bags. This makes it very difficult for bacteria to live or thrive. Moreover, if the fresh fish was stored at temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for too long, the structure of the fish can start to degrade, so your frozen fish could be safer and in better condition by the time you're ready to eat.
Price. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, food costs have doubled since 2000 and the cost of fish can be a deterrent for many Americans watching their waists and their wallets. By choosing individually packaged frozen fish, you are paying less because fewer employees are involved in the processing, keeping costs low. You can get a 2-pound bag of tilapia for less than $5.50 -- that's $2.25/lb. for a high-nutrient, low-fat product which can last as long as five months in your freezer!
Quantity. When you buy fresh fish from the store, you have at most two days to prepare and cook your catch. Comparatively, you can buy 1-5 pounds of fish filets from a variety of species that can last months if properly frozen. No longer do you have to worry about what you're making for dinner, because you've got filets ready to roll in your freezer. If you pack your freezer with frozen fish, you are more likely to include seafood in your diet because it has become more convenient and accessible to you on a day-to-day basis. Like I said, I still include fresh seafood in my diet, but mainly on weekends when I have the time to work with a whole fish or tackle a local species that is seasonal in nature.
These three reasons should motivate you to try frozen fish, but here is a fourth, just in case you need the push:
Weight Loss. Good intentions alone will not help with weight loss. I like to say, "If you don't eat it, it doesn't count." You must take ideas and implement them and frozen fish makes availability for a busy person so much more convenient. Menu planning for success starts with a realistic plan. Of course, I prefer going to the fishmonger and picking up the best and freshest catch of the day, but I live in the real world, like you. Life tends to get in the way of wellness, so we must recognize and choose foods that are doable. Frozen fish is not only doable, it's the easiest menu change with the highest impact. Easy means we will do it more and that will make us healthier. In a country where, according to the CDC, 610,000 people die each year of cardiovascular disease, have cholesterol issues and obesity, just adding some fish to your plate may help.
Get out there and try some frozen fish. Be fearless. Be full.