I celebrate “Fish Friday” in our home during Lent for health of both spirit and body.
Why Fish Friday? Catholics abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays during Lent, the forty-day season in preparation for Easter. It’s an abstention meant to help strengthen spiritual development and a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice, which is commemorated on Good Friday. Motherhood can have a funny way of bringing us back to family roots.
I grew up in a contradiction of Catholic faith. On one hand, my grandparents’ generation was devoutly Catholic. The profound faith of my great-aunts Isolina and Estela and my Abita (grandmother) are vivid and real even though they’ve been gone for decades. On the other hand, my parents were anti-Catholic. My mother thought God was in the mountains, in the wonder of nature and her spiritual practice truly was do unto others as you would have them do unto you, in a daily, actual way. My father thought the Catholic Church, with its rigid authoritarian hierarchy and “liberation theology”, were in great part responsible for the political and socio-economic problems of Latin America.
But although my parents didn’t take us to Sunday mass or practice Catholic rituals, the traditions seeped into our life, particularly around the holy days – Christmas and Easter. Fish Fridays was one manifestation, and on Easter Sunday when everyone gathered at Abitos’ (grandparent’s) home bacalo (cod) was tradition.[su_expanding_quote_web source_site=”Name of Site” source_url=”URL of Site” full_quote=”The Church’s directive called for abstaining from eating meat and did not mention the eating of fish on Fridays. The Church’s objective in calling on the faithful to abstain from eating meat on certain days was to provide them with a simple exercise to aid in their spiritual development. Human nature being what it is, people usually react to new rules by looking for loopholes, which enable them to comply with the letter of the rule but not necessarily the spirit of the rule. In its abstinence rule, the Church simply required its members to abstain from eating meat with the idea that people would limit their food to vegetables and grains on Fridays. Meat is generally considered to be the flesh of warm-blooded land animals. Fish, on the other hand, are cold-blooded water dwelling creatures. Using this technicality, people began consuming the flesh of fish in place of the flesh of animals on days of abstinence. Fish thus became a part of the culture of the Catholic Church.” short_quote=”The Church’s objective in calling on the faithful to abstain from eating meat on certain days was to provide them with a simple exercise to aid in their spiritual development.”]
Today, with a child of my own, I’ve gone back to my Galindo family Catholic roots. Because I alternate vegetarian and omnivore days in my weekly menus we already “give up meat” on a regular basis. But enacting “Fish Friday” is a way to honor and strengthen spiritual practice. This encompasses a renewed commitment to meditation and the energy of prayer, an appreciation for all our blessings, an awake and daily spirit of thankfulness as well as a sense of custodianship for our bodies, our health and our planet.
And regardless of religious practice, fish is so good for our health.[su_expanding_quote_book alignment=”full” source_author=”Daniel Amen, MD and Tana Amen, RN” source_title=”The Brain Warrior’s Way” full_quote=”Omega-3 fats are crucial for optimal health. Your brain needs specific types of omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA and EPA to function well. These are found in fish. Deficiencies in these vital fatty acids have been shown to be associated with age-related cognitive decline, physiological disturbances, and depression, mood swings. Similarly, these critical fatty acids are necessary for optimal immune response and improving cardiovascular health, skin quality, vision and wound healing.” short_quote=”Your brain needs specific types of omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA and EPA to function well. These are found in fish.”]
Fish and Brain Health
“Half the brain is 60 percent fat, half of that fat is DHA. Fish is the best source of omega-3 fats (DHA and EPA) essential to visual, mental, metabolic and hormonal function. The body can make its own DHA and EPA from other omega-3 fats in plants but the conversion is inefficient. DHA and EPA are vital to the brain. Like bone marrow, which helped our brains grow much bigger and faster than the brains of leaf eaters, fish was brain food. Without DHA we might not have evolved at all. No wonder the search for fish and seafood is universal. ” Nina Planck, Real Food: What to Eat and Why
Fish and Diabetes
Diabetes, it seems, is a disease of diet. Those with diabetes are vulnerable to other disorders, cardiac disease, kidney failure and stroke.
Fish is important because omega-3 fats decrease insulin resistance. Omega-3 fats also regulate blood sugar levels and fat burning.
Fish and Heart Disease
The evidence that omega-3 fats prevent heart disease is robust and growing.[su_expanding_quote_book alignment=”full” source_author=”Nina Planck” source_title=”Real Food, What to Eat and Why” full_quote=”Omega-3 fats reduce the risk of a first heart attack and reduce the risk of sudden death during a heart attack by 20 to 40 percent. The Physician’s Health Study which followed twenty thousand doctors, found those eating fish as little as once a week were half as likely to have a fatal heart attack as those who ate fish less than once a month. If you’ve survived one heart attach, eating fish can prevent a second heart attack. All too often, nutritional research is ambiguous, the results are modest and the advice is confounding. Happily, the news on fish is good and getting better.” short_quote=”Omega-3 fats reduce the risk of a first heart attack and reduce the risk of sudden death during a heart attack by 20 to 40 percent. “]
Omega-3 fats prevent heart disease by
- Raising HDL (good cholesterol)
- Reducing LDL (bad cholesterol)
- Reducing blood pressure by dilating the blood vessels
- Reducing clotting, inflammation, and triglycerides
- Reducing lipoprotein which promotes atherosclerosis and blood clots
- Reducing irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia) which reduces risk of death during and after heart attack
Fish and Depression
Population studies, lab work and clinical experience with depressed patients suggest that fish oil can prevent and treat depression. Apparently fish is food for thinking.
Fish oil prevents depression in several ways:
- Omega-3 fats make up nerve cell membranes, which affect the transmission of nervous system signals.
- DHA, EPA and ALA regulate calcium, sodium and potassium, which control electrical activity in the brain.
- Omega-3 fats directly activate receptors for neurotransmitters including dopamine, serotonin which are chemical messengers for mood, sleep, appetite and libido
Fish and Children
In children, omega-3 fat deficiency is linked to dyslexia, poor motor skills, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Deficient teenagers and adults are prone to anger, hostility and violence. Pregnant and nursing mothers who don’t replenish omega-3 stores are at risk of postnatal depression.[su_expanding_quote_book alignment=”full” source_author=”Daniel Amen MD and Tana Amen RN” source_title=”The Brain Warrior’s Way” full_quote=”Eating fish benefits cognitive performance. A study from Swedish researchers that surveyed nearly five thousand fifteen-year old boys found that those who ate fish more than once a week scored higher on standard intelligence tests than teens that ate no fish. A follow-up study found that teens eating fish more than once a week also had better grades at school than students with lower fish consumption.” short_quote=”Eating fish benefits cognitive performance.”]
Epicurious: Pan Seared Fish in Ginger Broth I serve this over over soba noodles
For More Empowerment
A fun story: