Barranquilla is a city where fresh and sea water meet. Not only is Barranquilla located at the Atlantic coast, but also, the city shares a border with the Magdalena River, the longest and largest river within Colombia. Being blessed by two of the most powerful bodies of water in the area, Barranquilla is a perfect place to find fresh seafood. In fact, seafood is a big part of the diet of Barranquilleros. Many restaurants along the beach and the riverside serve fresh fish, and you can even find vendors selling the famous ¨cocktail de camaron,¨ a tasty shrimp snack, on the streets.
Fish is one of the healthiest food options for human consumption. High in protein and minerals, it is low in saturated fats. Fish also contains two of the highest health promoting omega three fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid or EPA and DHA for short.
Many studies have shown that regular consumption of fish can help reduce the risk of heart disease, as well as lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. DHA is the most prevalent fatty acid found in the brain and it is an essential part of brain development during childhood and brain function during adulthood. In addition, EPA is necessary for healthy neurological and auditory development of the fetus during pregnancy. Both EPA and DHA hold anti-inflammatory properties and thus can reduce the risk of many chronic diseases such as rheumatic arthritis and cancer.
Research has also shown that consumption of fish throughout pregnancy can reduce the incidence of childhood asthma and eczema. In another study, it was found that populations that consume fish regularly have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later on in life. This is due to the protective effect of the two omega 3 fatty acids on the central nervous system.
Unfortunately, in the past few decades, we humans have done significant damage to the both environment and our own bodies. One major example is the contamination of our sea and fresh water through the waste products of factories. What was once of the healthiest food options, is now a source of one of the most dangerous toxins. When mercury-filled waste-water is released from factories, it is absorbed by fish and accumulates across their lives. Because of this, some types of fish contain up to 10,000 times more mercury in their bodies than the polluted water surrounding them. When we eat them that toxicity passes on to our bodies and the more we consume, the higher our risk of disease.
In fact, the mercury in fish has become so problematic that there have been several warnings against liberal consumption of fish. Mercury overload can cause serious health problems in anyone especially in children and pregnant women. Some of the negative health effects of mercury include nervous system toxicity, cancer, high blood pressure, infertility, mental retardation, fatigue, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson, hair loss and learning disabilities.
The only solution is making conscious choices in order to change the destructive effect of our species on this planet. But this is a long-term commitment and right now we need short term solutions. The good news is that mercury does not affect all types of fish to the same extent and if we educate ourselves, we can continue to enjoy the healthy benefits of fish without worrying about toxicity.
To choose your fish wisely, you can use the following table:
*Fish in Trouble!: These fish are perilously low in numbers or are caught using environmentally destructive methods. For ethical reasons, please consider using none or at least, a very small amount of these fish.
** Farmed Salmon: May contain PCB’s which are chemicals with serious long-term health effects.
While in Barranquilla, it is a must (assuming you are an omnivore!) to experience some of the popular seafood dishes, especially those served with coconut rice and plantain. Using the above guide, you can visit one of the many places that serve fresh seafood in Barranquilla, such as in the Las Flores neighborhood, located right on the shore of the Magdalena River.
Remember that no matter where we are, we can make a positive effect on our environment and our health. Make conscious choices. Choose your fish wisely and enjoy the many restaurants that offer fresh seafood in Barranquilla!
Be Happy & Healthy!
Dr. Rasa Nikanjam, B.Sc. ND
Source: Natural Resources Defense Council www.nrdc.org