The Lenten Season

The Lenten Season

Popularity of Fish at this Time is Well Deservedfrom a Nutritional Standpoint


Foods and Diet Editor


                “All the health of the sea is in the fish” runs an old saw. And now that the Lenten season is here, it is well to recognize the nutritional value of fish. How does fish compare with meat in calories, minerals, vitamins, proteins? Fish does not differ materially from other forms of meat. It contains collagen in greater amounts and thus will yield more gelatin than meat; however, meat has more extractives and hemoglobin. The proteins of fish are equal in nutritive value to those of other animals. Fish usually contains more fats and less water.


Since the digestibility of the fish is more or less determined by its fat content, a safe general rule to follow is that fish with the least amount of fat is most easily digested. The completeness of digestion (meaning the utilization of the fats and proteins contained in fish and shell-fish) is about the same as meats of various kinds. Oysters and lean fish rank in case of digestion and rapidly with which it leaves the stomach, as poultry and lean beef; fat fish, lobsters, and crabs compare with goose and pork. Lobster owes its sweet flavor to the large amount of glycogen deposited in the long stringy muscles.


The recently demonstrated richness of Vitamin D in fish oils points the way to a more economical source of that vitamin, for the cost of cod-liver oil preparations on the market today often prohibits its use by poor families. In a report by Tolle and Nelson (Ind. Eng. Chem. 23: 1066, 1931) we may learn: “From the data obtained on Vitamin D content of the oil in canned salmon, it is quite apparent that there is more Vitamin D in the canned salmon sold in this country than in the cod-liver oil used both for human and animal feeding.” Anti-rachitic properties have been reported in canned shrimp. Kippered herring is said to contain enough of Vitamins A and D to warrant its use in place of cod-liver oil for those who cannot tolerate the latter. The high Vitamin D content of fish oils may be explained in part of the basis of the Vitamin D of the plankton which fish or their prey eat.


Oysters are rich in the Vitamin B complex (F and G), also in Vitamins A and C. neither hard nor soft shell clams contain these vitamins in appreciable amounts but are rich in Vitamin D, the anti-rachitic factor. Oysters also being lauded for their iron and copper content, so necessary to produce red blood. However, much work is still undone on the question of the actual availability of this type of iron and copper for the human cell, not only of oysters as a rich source of these minerals, but also of liver, pigs’ stomach, and vegetables such as spinach.


The iodine content of oysters and lobster is much discussed. Iodine, in proper amounts, is indicated in the diet or in medication in abnormal functioning of the thyroid gland. If the supply of iodine is lacking either in improper functioning of the thyroid or in the food supply, some forms of goiter may develop. Lobster, among the sea foods, is outstanding in its iodine content.


Whether you are interested in foods or geography, the story of Dr. J.A. Urquhart who writes about “The Most Northerly Practice in Canada” in the August (1935) issue of the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association will interest you. His territory borders Alaska near the McKenzie river. He has found that, since there are literally no vegetables, and eggs and fresh milk are not readily available, the Eskimos, disdaining canned foods, subsist on a high protein and fat diet, low in carbohydrates, furnished by the flesh of caribou, bear, seal, whale, and fish, and the fat by the liver and blubber of the seal and whale. He comments on the excellent condition of the teeth and the small percentage of tuberculosis among the Eskimos and the high percentage among the Indians; due, he thinks, not only to the cleanliness of shelter of the Eskimo (who moves frequently) but also to the fact that the Eskimo’s diet is high in fat.


Fish of all kinds invite you to special table delights from the seafoods of the coastal regions, to the fresh water trout of the inland states. There is no difference in the food qualities of the fresh and salt water fish, preferences for one or the other is purely individual. As a rule, fish which come from clear, cold waters are to be preferred over fish from streams with muddy bottoms. Fish that prey on smaller fish are to be preferred to those which live on sewage.


Because fish spoil quickly due to bacterial invasion, and develop an unpleasant flavor and odor, it is best to preserve them immediately by freezing at from 25 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit, by canning, drying or salting. The danger of contamination of oyster-beds with diseases producing bacteria is a menace. Increasing governmental vigilance is gradually making this danger remote.

Fish and shell-fish are used today as supplementary foods, and always form a profitable and interesting addition to the diet. Fish may be used, however, as a sole source of protein and adequately serves as demonstrated by other people.



Chemical Composition of Some of the Commoner Fish. (Atwater & Bryant)









Value per
















Fish Fresh          
Bass, black, whole 76.7 20.6 1.7 1.2 455
Bluefish, entrails removed 40.3 10.0 .6 .7 210
Cod, whole 82.6 16.5 .4 1.2 325
Eels, salt water, hard skin, and entrails removed 71.6 18.6 9.1 1.0 730
Haddock, entrails removed 81.7 17.6 .3 1.2 335
Mackerel, whole 73.4 18.7 7.1 1.2 645
Perch, white, whole 75.7 19.3 4.0 1.2 530
Pompano, whole 72.8 18.8 7.5 1.0 525
Salmon, whole 64.6 22.0 12.8 1.4 950
Shad, whole 70.6 18.8 9.5 1.3 750
Trout, brook, whole 77.8 19.2 2.1 1.2 445
Oysters in shell 86.9 6.2 1.2 2.0 235
Clams, long, in shell 85.8 8.6 1.0 2.6 240