Pick fish for your holiday dish

November 30, 2017

Interview with Kailee Farnum, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Swedish, on the heart-healthy benefits of fish.

Pick fish for a heart-healthy holiday dish

  • Omega-3 fatty acids, found in most fish, are important for maintaining cardiovascular health.
  • Fish is lower in saturated fat and cholesterol than other sources of animal protein.
  • Fish may help improve brain function and protect it from age-related deterioration.

What makes fish the perfect holiday dish? Not only are fish delicious, but they are also filled to the gills with health benefits. Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring are high in omega-3 fatty acids. White-fleshed fish like cod, sea bass and haddock are lower in fat than any other source of animal protein. 

“Fish is an excellent source of protein, one of the most satiating nutrients in our diets,” says Farnum. “Protein is a building block that the body uses to keep everything running while maintaining or building muscle mass. Fish is also high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which are very important for reducing inflammation, lowering cholesterol and keeping the heart healthy. In addition to these great qualities, fish is also healthy because of what it doesn't have — sugar and sodium. 

“Some holiday meats, such as ham, have higher amounts of sugar than we are used to consuming regularly, which can lead to fatigue or elevated blood sugar, especially if an individual has diabetes. Too much sodium can increase blood pressure and put more strain on blood vessels and the heart,” says Farnum.

Because our bodies can’t organically make enough omega-3 fatty acids or many essential vitamins and nutrients, fish are important for a heart-healthy diet. In particular, fish with high levels of omega-3s have shown to improve cardiovascular health by aiding vessel constriction and coagulation (clotting of the blood). 

“Fish is a very healthy option all year round, but it’s an especially healthy choice when we opt for fish over other popular meats during the holiday season,” says Farnum. “For example, a holiday turkey is surely a sight to behold, but the skin of the turkey is very high in saturated fat, which can raise cholesterol levels. Deep-frying a turkey or making turducken, when you stuff a turkey with a duck, involves a whole other level of unhealthy fat content. Ham is also very popular during the holidays, particularly honey-cured ham, which is very high in saturated fat, sugar and salt, due to the curing and flavoring process. Fish, on the other hand, is chock full of healthy omega-3 fatty acids and naturally low in sodium and sugar. It’s a terrific source of lean protein that cooks up quickly and tastes delicious.”

Five heart-healthy fish recipes perfect for your next dinner party

When you arrive at your next holiday gathering with one of these colorful, delicious, healthy dishes, the guests will be clamoring for the recipe.

Creole red snapper – 228 calories

Red snapper is a delicious, low-calorie source of lean protein, potassium, vitamin A, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids. Potassium is a powerhouse when it comes to reducing your risk of heart disease because it works to reduce high blood pressure. This dish also brims with tomatoes and bell peppers, a dynamic duo that fights infection, free radicals and heart problems while boosting your immune system.

Ingredients (serves 4)
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup chopped onion
¼ cup chopped green bell pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1 (14 ½ ounce) can no-salt-added whole tomatoes, undrained and chopped
1 teaspoon low-sodium Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon dried basil
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Dash of hot sauce
4 (6-ounce) red snapper fillets
Fresh basil sprigs (optional)

How to make it
  1. HEAT olive oil in a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add onion, green bell pepper and garlic. Sauté ingredients until they are tender.
  2. ADD all remaining ingredients (except for the red snapper fillets and basil sprigs). Bring to a boil; add fillets and spoon tomato mixture over the fish. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 12 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.
  3. SERVE immediately (garnish with basil sprigs, if desired).
For the whole recipe, see here.

Pan-roasted mackerel and veggies – 429 calories

Fight cardiovascular disease while feasting on this tasty dish. Mackerel is loaded with mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids and low in saturated fats. Not only will this dish satisfy your taste buds, but it will also help reduce risk for stroke, atherosclerosis, heart attacks and arrhythmia.

Ingredients (serves 4)
2 small orange bell peppers, cut into one-inch pieces
1 large sweet onion, cut into one-inch pieces
8 cloves garlic, crushed
1 ½ tablespoon olive oil
2 slender zucchini, trimmed, quartered and cut into ¾ inch pieces
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 1/3 pound mackerel fillets (skin-on or skinless)
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence (optional)
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

How to make it
  1. HEAT oven to 375°F. Put peppers, onio, and garlic on a large sheet pan lined with parchment and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Toss to combine. Spread in a single layer to edges of the pan.
  2. ROAST until browned, about 30 minutes. Stir in zucchini and tomatoes and sprinkle evenly with ¼ teaspoon kosher salt. Roast, occasionally stirring, until zucchini softens, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven. Turn on broiler.
  3. PLACE fish on veggies and drizzle with remaining ½ tablespoon oil. Sprinkle with herbes de Provence (if using) and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt. Broil on top rack until fish cooks through, about 6 minutes. Top with basil (if using).

For the whole recipe, see here.

Pistachio-crusted tuna steaks – 241 calories

Tuna is a terrific source of omega-3 fatty acids, so you can indulge guilt-free knowing this dish can help lower your blood pressure and boost your immune system. Pistachios are also loaded with heart-healthy, omega-3 fatty acids — and they help lower your cholesterol. Dig into this delectable dish and enjoy the health benefits!

Ingredients (serves 4) 1 tablespoon thinly sliced shallot
1 bay leaf
 ½ cup white wine
3 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill, divided
1 teaspoon whole-grain mustard
½ teaspoon salt, divided
¼ cup coarse dry breadcrumbs, preferably whole-wheat
¼ cup shelled pistachios
4 4-ounce tuna steaks (approximately 1-1 ¼ inches thick)
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

How to make it
  1. PLACE shallot, bay leaf and wine in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce until the wine is almost evaporated (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat. Discard bay leaf and transfer to a small bowl. Add sour cream, lemon juice, 1-teaspoon dill, mustard and ¼-teaspoon salt. Stir to combine.
  2. PUT breadcrumbs, pistachios, the remaining 1-teaspoon dill and ¼-teaspoon salt in a blender or food processor. Process until finely ground. Transfer to a shallow bowl. Dredge both sides of the tuna in the pistachio mixture.
  3. HEAT oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add tuna and cook until browned, adjusting heat as necessary to prevent burning, 4 to 5 minutes per side for medium-rare. Serve with the lemon-dill sauce.

“I love adding citrus to fish recipes for extra flavor, especially during the holidays,” says Farnum. “The bright flavor of citrus helps cut through heavier side dishes like mashed potatoes with gravy. Squeezing citrus juice over the fish or adding it to a marinade can enhance the other flavors in the recipe, and using a citrus zest, which is the skin of the fruit, can intensify the flavor and allow it to last longer through the cooking process. Lime can be a great addition to both tender white fish-based dishes and heartier salmon dishes. Using lime, lemon, orange and blood orange flavors are great ways to add that bright citrus flavor to any fish recipe.”

For whole recipe, see here

Trout Fillets with Fresh Rosemary – 180 calories

Rainbow trout is one of the healthiest fish you can add to your diet. They are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, vitamin B, potassium and phosphorus, which contribute to a lower risk of heart disease. 

Ingredients (serves 2)
4-6 fresh rosemary sprigs
8 ounces rainbow trout fillets (approximately ¼ inch thick), rinsed and patted dry
½ teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

How to make it
  1. HEAT oven to 350°F.
  2. PLACE rosemary in a single row on a small baking pan.
  3. PLACE fish on top of rosemary and brush with oil.
  4. SPRINKLE lemon juice, salt and pepper on top.
  5. BAKE for 7-8 minutes or until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

For whole recipe, see here!

Swordfish steaks with Cherry Tomatoes and Capers

Swordfish is a rich source of heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats as well as essential and conditional amino acids. These acids help your body fight infection by reducing inflammation and lowering your risk for heart disease. Due to its higher levels of mercury, this dish is not recommended for pregnant or lactating women. Instead, choose a fish low in mercury like salmon, tuna, catfish, cod or tilapia. 

Ingredients (serves 2)
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1-2 swordfish steaks (approximately 1 inch thick)
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
½ small red onion, finely chopped
4 oil-packed anchovy fillets, drained, finely chopped
2 15-ounce cans cherry tomatoes, drained
2 tablespoons capers, drained
2 tablespoons Sherry (or red wine) vinegar
2 tablespoons oregano leaves
Lemon wedges (for serving)

How to make it
  1. HEAT broiler.
  2. DRIZZLE 2 tablespoons olive oil in a 2-quart baking dish.
  3. ADD swordfish, turn to coat, and season with salt and pepper.
  4. TOSS onion, anchovies, tomatoes, capers, vinegar and 2 tablespoons oil in a medium bowl, season with salt and pepper.
  5. ARRANGE mixture around fish.
  6. BROIL fish until golden brown and tomatoes begin to blister (5-8 minutes).
  7. TURN fish and broil until fish is opaque throughout (5-7 minutes).
  8. TOP with oregano and serve with lemon wedges.

For whole recipe, see here

“Our website has a lot of great resources for anyone looking to learn more about diet and nutrition. We have dietitians who specialize in everything from diabetes, heart health, and weight loss to food allergies and PCOS,” says Farnum.

“Our dietitians are available for individualized consultations at Swedish in Seattle, Issaquah and Ballard. Give us a call at 206-215-2090 to set up a visit or check us out online.”

The holiday season is a time to gather around the dinner table with friends and loved ones. Give them the gift of a delicious, healthy fish plate that will leave their palate wanting more. For more recipes, articles and nutrition tips, sign up for our monthly newsletter