Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tuna for Your Heart

Suppose after decades of research, cardiologists discovered that cardiac arrhythmia leading to sudden death could be prevented with, of all things, tuna fish sandwiches. That is precisely what was reported in a lead article in the March 18, 2003 edition of the prestigious medical journal Circulation.

Epidemiologists found that people who ate tuna and other white fish—not counting any kind of fried fish or any form of catfish—3 or more times a week had a 49 percent reduction of risk of death by heart attack and a 58 percent reduction in sudden death by cardiac arrhythmia, compared to people who ate fish once a month. The “fish effect” held regardless of sex, race, smoking, diabetes, obesity, use of medications, exercise, alcohol, consumption of other fatty foods (specifically fried chicken and French fries), or vitamin deficiency. Eating fish, and specifically eating tuna, is good for your heart.

Other fatty fish offer similar cardioprotection, but tuna is most readily available and inexpensive of all the cold-water fish. During the 1990s, there was legitimate concern about the presence of mercury and other heavy metals in tuna, but currently this problem is limited to (1) fresh tuna (2) that is caught in the Mediterranean, where mercury outcroppings contaminant some of the tuna’s feeding grounds. Mercury is not found in canned tuna in any developed country, and it is not found in fresh tuna caught in the Atlantic or Pacific.

The best quality tuna is not necessarily the most expensive tuna. Generally, among canned tunas, “white” is better than “light.” In the U.S., federal regulations require that “white” tuna be made exclusively from apoundacore tuna. Because apoundacore do not swim in tight schools like yellowfin or skipjack, they have to be caught individually by lines dragging behind a slow-moving boat. This makes white tuna more expensive. “White” tuna can range in color from white to a salmon-pink, but there is little difference in taste or texture among brands. The least expensive brands of white tuna taste about the same as “Fancy” or “Premium” labels.

Light tuna is not necessarily apoundacore, not necessarily caught by dolphin-safe methods, and is frequently tainted by the aftertaste of the can. Light tuna breaks into flakes reminiscent of cat food, and tends to become mushy in salads. Moreover, light tunas contain less of the beneficial fatty acids that confer cardiovascular protection. Light varieties are less expensive, but definitely a second choice.

Tuna in a vacuum-sealed pack is your best choice if you are making tuna salad. Tuna salad is traditionally made with mayonnaise to give it a little creaminess to carry the flavors of all the ingredients. Mayonnaise, like French fries, can be made in a relatively healthy way (see Mayonnaise and Wasabi), but you should make it yourself, in small batches, and use it quickly. Cottage cheese, yogurt, and even creamed corn can be used to provide the “mouth feel” and to capture flavors in the tuna salad with less fat. For additional flavor, try these antioxidant and phytonutrient rich tuna salad variations.

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