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Fish is a traditional source of affordable protein. But that's led to it being regarded as a cheap meat substitute instead of a great food in its own right. What's great about fish?

Fish is a great source of animal protein. It’s versatile, fitting in with cuisine as far apart as Thai curries and traditional Scandinavian dishes, so whatever your tastes, fish can fit in. And fish can fit in with most diets, too. Obviously it’s out for vegetarians and vegans, but if you’re looking to reduce your red meat intake (you shouldn’t be, but still), you’re a piscitarian (vegetarian plus fish), if you’re eating Paleo or primal or any variant, fish fits in nicely. If you want to gain weight, fish will help. Dieting to lose weight? Fish fit in nicely there too. The unique nutrition profile of oily fish means they’re a great choice for young and old alike.

So why is fish disregarded?

Why don't people eat fish? People used to eat fish much more regularly than they do now.

In Britain, fish and chips is the traditional blue-collar takeaway countrywide, while poached kippers was a part of the breakfast spread of the well-to-do, and salmon on your table proved one of two things: you were either a sportsman with land to fish on, or a poacher. In Scandinavia, river fish competed with deepwater catches and shoreline fish for the national dinner table.

In America, rivers, two oceans and a complex of lakes that would pass for seas almost anywhere else ensured a steady supply of fish to lunch and dinner plates.

Additionally, there was the stimulus from Catholicism, which requires adherents to eat no meat on Fridays for religious reasons.

So what changed?

Obviously traditional religious observance has waned. But traditional food culture has waned too. People whose parents and grandparents grew up on pickled herring, wild salmon, mackerel, fried catfish, porgies, lutefisk and more are now all standing together – which is a good thing – in the queue for Olive Garden, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Nowadays, people say fish is hard to cook, or it makes the whole house smell like fish, or people don’t know what fish to buy, or they had a bad experience with inexpertly-cooked fish early in life and it put them off forever.

But there are lots of excellent reasons to eat fish.

Fish is a great source of protein

Fish is an excellent source of protein. Unlike vegetable sources of protein, which are usually not very dense or very bioavailable or very complete, fish is all three. It’s just as proteinaceous as red meat, on average – and big sea fish like salmon and tuna are actually more protein-rich than beefsteak. It’s often significantly cheaper for equivalent quality, though.

If you’re buying decent cuts of beef, for instance, you’ll pay something like four time the price per pound of deep sea white fish.

Even premium fish like bream are cheaper than most steak. If you’re buying salmon, it’s cheaper than salmon cut beef. And the highest-quality luxury fish you can get, like line-caught salmon fillets, is still less than half the price of filet steak.

And eating fish for its protein content means you also get a lot of other benefits along with it. For one thing, it’s often a great source of vitamins, like vitamins A and D, phosphorus, magnesium, selenium, and iodine, which is very important – it’s responsible for correct thyroid gland function.

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