A balanced diet needs to have healthy sources of the three nutrient groups: fat, carbohydrates and protein. And meat and fish can be two healthy sources of protein. But do you have to choose between meat versus fish? Is fish better than meat? Or vice versa?
The truth is, there are pros and cons to both. And knowing the basics can help you decide how to incorporate meat and fish into your diet.
Pros of eating fish
From the Mediterranean region to Japan, fish has been nourishing people for thousands of years. And here are just some of the reasons why fish is such a great food to eat.
There are plant sources of protein, but animal foods are said to be complete sources of protein. This is because they contain all the essential amino acids – substances that the body needs, but can’t produce on its own. Fish is a source of complete protein.
Not only is fish a complete protein, but it’s also easy for the body to digest, compared to plant-based sources of protein. That’s because many plant sources of protein contain nutrient-blocking enzymes, making it more difficult for the protein and other nutrients to assimilate into the body.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega fatty acids are important for health and wellness, however, it’s important to have a good balance between Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Unfortunately, many people consume too much Omega-6 fatty acids, and this can lead to inflammation.
The good thing about fish is that it’s high in Omega-3 fatty acids to help promote mental, cardiovascular and endocrine health, just to name a few of its far-reaching benefits.
Cons of eating fish
While fish itself isn’t a health concern, there are some environmental factors that can compromise the quality and safety of fish. Let’s take a look at some of these problems.
Due to growing pollution and toxicity levels in the ocean, even wild-caught fish can be poisoned with this heavy metal, which can wreak havoc on the nervous system.
Dr. Axe offers one tip to avoid eating fish contaminated with mercury. Since mercury is stored in the tissue of fish, if you opt for smaller fish, rather than larger varieties like tuna and swordfish, there is less room for mercury in the fish tissue.
Even though fish is a great source of protein and nutrients, these benefits are all but erased when you eat farm-raised fish. Sure, this type of fish is more affordable, but you can pay a high price with your health.
Farmed fish receive antibiotics, and this can lead to you eating those same antibiotics. What’s more, farmed fish live in pools that are treated with pesticides. And it’s no wonder. The pools are often full of waste accumulation and allow for bacteria to flourish. These pesticides can make their way to your plate.
The farmed fish you should always avoid include:
- Atlantic cod
- Atlantic halibut
- Chilean sea bass
- Imported catfish
- Imported shrimp
- Imported king crab
Whenever you have the option, always opt for wild-caught fish.
Food fraud includes items like beef, honey, and yes, fish. In fact, fake fish is very rampant. A study found that a third of the 1,215 fish samples examined were mislabeled. What might be particularly unsettling about these findings is that fake fish is found in places closest to the ocean.
For example, Southern California had over 50 percent mislabeling. Boston had 48 percent mislabeling rates.
This is a big concern when it comes to eating fish. So, it’s always crucial to know where your fish is coming from before you take a bite.
Pros of eating meat
Like fish, meat is a complete source of protein and provides the body with a healthy source of amino acids. But meat offers other nutrients, too.
Meat provides Vitamins A, B, and D. And while it’s possible to get vitamins A and D from plant-based foods, it’s impossible to get Vitamin B outside of animal sources. And since Vitamin B is so crucial to overall health – including mental health – it makes meat a favorable option for many people.
Meat also serves up zinc, magnesium, and iron – all of which are helpful in supporting physiological functions, including a woman’s menstrual cycle and reducing PMS symptoms.
While it’s important to not overdo it with saturated fats, they do support healthy weight loss, as well as intestinal and metabolic health. And meats provide these fats in good supply.
Cons of eating meat
When meat is prepared properly and eaten in moderation, it can be a healthy and nourishing food. However, like fish, meat does come with a downside. And much of the problem has to do with agricultural practices.
During the slaughtering process, fecal matter contamination often occurs. And this can lead to illnesses brought about by E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter. In fact, contaminated meat is to blame for up to 70 percent of food poisoning in the United States.
In order to increase the speed at which cattle grow, farmers administer hormones to the cows. However, it’s possible to consume an excessive amount of hormones, which in turn, can throw off the body’s hormone production and overall health.
You can avoid these problems by seeking out high-quality meats. For example, opt for locally raised animals who get lots of sunshine and live in clean conditions. Also seek out animals who had a soy and grain-free diet, as well as minimal, to no hormones and antibiotic administration.
This is one way to get the benefits of meat without the toxic problems usually associated with it.
Can fish substitute meat, or vice versa?
As you can see, both fish and meat are great sources of protein, as well as other key vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, farming and manufacturing processes can make both these foods unfit for human consumption.
So, is one better than the other? Can fish substitute meat, or vice versa? It really depends on your own bio-individuality. That is, everyone has different nutritional needs. For some people, a diet rich in fish and seafood will give them the nutrition they need. Others will tolerate meat better and even thrive on it.
To decide how to incorporate either meat or fish (or both!) into your diet, consult with a professional doctor, dietitian or health coach. Together you can figure out the optimal source of protein for your body’s needs.