Cheap Fish Keep Brains Young

MANILA, Philippines — Hugging the news around the world a few days ago was the finding that omega-3 fatty acids keep brains healthy and may slow the mental decline that leads to dementia; among the young, omega-3 improves brain function and memory.

Researchers found that people with the highest blood levels of these essential fatty acids found in fish such as sardines, herring and tuna were more likely to perform well on tests of mental functioning and show healthier, bigger brains.

Other benefits from omega-3, said the study’s lead author, Dr. Zaldy Tan, associate professor at the Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research and the division of geriatrics at the University of California, Los Angeles, include reducing blood pressure and inflammation. The study was published in the latest issue of the journal Neurology.

“This is a strengthening of the argument that people with less [omega-3 fatty acids] have higher risk of dementia,” said Dr. Nikolaos Scarmeas, associate professor of clinical neurology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.

He added that fish is a good prescription for other things, citing a previous study which found decreased risk of vascular brain problems among those who ate at least three servings of fish a week.

LOCAL FISH RICH IN OMEGA-3 – Internet sites identifying fish rich in omega-3 list salmon as the richest source, intimidating cost-conscious Filipinos who would think twice before buying imported salmon in supermarkets for R500/kilo (steaks), R200/kilo for (heads), and close to R1,000/kilo for smoked salmon halves.

The good news is: A number of inexpensive fish varieties also provide substantial amounts of omega-3. These are: Tuna (tambakol or bariles), mackerel (tanigue, tulingan, hulyasan), herring (turay), sardines (tamban, tawilis, salinyasi) and anchovies (dilis).

DO NOT FRY – Nutritionists advise against frying, which affects the quality and quantity of the omega-3 fatty acids. For best results, recommended cooking methods include steaming, stewing, smoking and grilling. In Tagalog, those mean paksiw, pinangat, tinola, tinapa and inihaw. One can add other non-fried dishes, such as ginataan, bulanglang and sinigang.

DILIS-CIOUS, NUTRITIOUS – Anchovies, or dilis, are now in season; they come to the water’s surface as the amihan winds dry newly harvested palay. Dilis is often eaten whole; their nutritive value includes vast amounts of calcium from the heads and bones.

Anchovies, bought fresh, do not keep well in the freezer. The best way is to cook them right after they are bought and then keep them in airtight containers in the freezer or in the coldest part of the refrigerator.

My friends cook dilis very slowly, adobo-style, with lots of garlic, bay leaves and coarse black pepper, The liquids evaporate, leaving only garlic-infused oil and tenderized dilis. Simmered long enough, the fish bones disintegrate and become tolerable. At this stage, the fish and oil are packed in small bottles and kept refrigerated until ready to be served on crackers or Melba toast.

This same recipe is also great with small mackerel, herring, tuna and other fish.

RAW IS BEST — For maximum nutrients, anchovies, tuna, mackerel, sardines and herring are best eaten raw after being deboned. A Pinoy favorite is kinilaw, using either vinegar or calamansi to “cook” the fish meat and seasoned with ginger, onions and chili peppers to tame the fishiness.

Greeks, Spaniards and Italians have their own versions of Kinilaw; they marinate raw dilis fillets in olive oil, herbs and lemon juice. Japanese, Koreans, Chinese and our Southeast Asian neighbors also have their own versions of raw fish.

STEWED WITH COCO CREAM – Another delectable cooking technique that preserves marine harvests well is Ginataan, which involves long stewing with coconut milk over a very low fire. The garlic, ginger, lemon grass, onions and chili combine for the distinct Ginataan flavor.

When cooked long enough, the coconut milk thickens until it eventually turns into oil. At this point, the fish is thoroughly cooked and could keep in the refrigerator for at least a week.

PINAPUTOK — As this cooking method does not involve frying, it is a novel and healthy way to cook fish. I first encountered this dish at the Seven Sisters restaurant in the middle of fishponds in Kawit, Cavite, in 1978 while covering Ninoy Aquino’s unsuccessful campaign for a seat in the Interim Batasang Pambansa. Vic and I were with Lupita Aquino and my ABC News boss Ken Kashiwahara; both men feigned disgust as Lupita and I sucked the heads of Kitang and Samaral (siganid and rabbit fish) wrapped whole in banana leaves with tomatoes, onions and ginger.

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