The Truth About Good-for-You Foods

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The Truth About Good-for-You Foods

May 29, 2009 5:44 PM by Mehmet C. Oz, MD, and Michael F. Roizen, MD | 6 comments

Q: So many restaurants are serving catfish, and people keep telling me it's healthy. I thought it was considered a dirty bottom-feeder, and that you had to be careful with it. Which is it -- healthy, or not? -- Julie, New York City If you're ordering it at a reputable restaurant or buying it at the store rather than catching it out on a lazy river somewhere, the humble catfish is A-OK to eat. In fact, U.S. farm-raised catfish is a good fish choice: It's flavorful and inexpensive, it's considered eco-friendly and sustainable, and one 3-ounce serving has about 25% of your daily protein needs.

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The disparaging "dirty bottom-feeder" slur pertains primarily to wild catfish, which generally feed in shallow, muddy river water, exposing them to toxins such as PCBs and pesticides that have accumulated in the sediment. These pollutants can get stored in fish fat for years -- the main reason to avoid wild catfish.

Farm-raised catfish, on the other hand, really don't deserve the name-calling. They are raised in clean, fresh water and are typically fed soybeans, corn, and rice. The disappointment: They contain less of the valuable omega-3 fat than they used to. A recent study of fish purchased in the United States shows that only farmed salmon and trout contain appreciable amounts of omega-3s. What happened with catfish? We don't know. But it could be fish-farming techniques.

In any case, catfish is a good source of protein laden with nonsaturated fat. If you do reach for this fish, make sure you're getting the good stuff: Look for a package label that says, "U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish." Try this tasty Cajun Pecan-Crusted Catfish recipe for dinner.

Find out which five fish are best for your heart and contain the least amount of mercury.

Q: How much caffeine is in dark chocolate? Enough to keep me up at night? How does the caffeine get in there, and do all chocolates have it? -- Ellen, Newton, MA Ah, chocolate! As it delivers its blood-pressure-lowering polyphenols called flavonoids and helps lower lousy LDL cholesterol, it also delivers some caffeine. The cacao bean, the source of edible chocolate, is one of many naturally caffeinated plants. (You probably know some of the others: coffee beans, tea leaves, and kola nuts . . . yes, that brand could have been KokaKola.

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Only white chocolate is considered caffeine-free, because it doesn't contain cocoa solids, or "nibs." But beware: White chocolate is often made with milk and trans fats, which can age you. If your heart is set on the classic (it knows what it's doing!), know that the darker the chocolate, the higher the caffeine. Why? Simple. It takes more cocoa solids to make the chocolate darker. The more cocoa solids, the more caffeine.

But how much caffeine are we really talking about? About 1 1/2 ounces of Hershey's milk chocolate has 9 milligrams of caffeine, but nearly the same amount of Hershey's Special Dark has more than triple that: about 30 milligrams. Compare that to a 12-ounce can of diet cola (35 to 45 milligrams) or an 8-ounce cup of coffee (about 135) or tea (40 to 50).

The average U.S. adult downs approximately 200 milligrams per day, and 300 milligrams per day is considered "moderate," so you shouldn't worry too much about the caffeine in that dark chocolate bar . . . unless you're planning on eating a half dozen of them. In that case, you have more to worry about than the caffeine! Can decaf drinkers get hooked on coffee? The answer might surprise you.

Q: I've heard that frozen vegetables can be even healthier than fresh. Is that true for fish, too? Frozen fish isn't any less nutritious than fresh, and it actually has some advantages if the fish was "fresh frozen" (or "flash frozen," "frozen fresh," or "quick frozen"). That means it was frozen as fast as possible, usually on the fishing vessel within hours of the fish being caught and cleaned. Fresh-frozen fish has its nutritional goodness "locked in." And because bacteria can't multiply very quickly in a frozen state, frozen fish is better protected against decomposition and spoilage . . . so there's less chance it will make you ill. What to watch out for: any signs of frost or ice crystals. Either one suggests a previous thaw and refreeze or too much time in the freezer, and your fish dish simply won't taste its best. Watch this video for a quick demo on how to skin and debone fish fillets.

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Frozen fish isn't any less nutritious than fresh, and it actually has some advantages if the fish was "fresh frozen" (or "flash frozen," "frozen fresh," or "quick frozen"). That means it was frozen as fast as possible, usually on the fishing vessel within hours of the fish being caught and cleaned. Fresh-frozen fish has its nutritional goodness "locked in." And because bacteria can't multiply very quickly in a frozen state, frozen fish is better protected against decomposition and spoilage . . . so there's less chance it will make you ill. What to watch out for: any signs of frost or ice crystals. Either one suggests a previous thaw and refreeze or too much time in the freezer, and your fish dish simply won't taste its best. Watch this video for a quick demo on how to skin and debone fish fillets.

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