A Diabetic-Compatible Fish Tale

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This guest post was written by type 2 diabetic and chef Ward Alper. It originally appeared on his website, The Decadent Diabetic, and was republished on Information About Diabetes with permission.

Fish gets a bum rap! When I was growing up, around 1911-1912 (just kidding), the Catholic kids on the block always had fish on Fridays. They HATED IT! My tradition was gefilte fish for some of the holidays. It tasted good, but: 1) the apartment reeked of fish for a week, 2) it looked like little brains (or worse), and 3) it was kinda slimy.

I didn’t hate it, but sometimes it was a little hard to get down, and the horseradish (I can’t believe I am saying this) was sorta nasty. Fish in those days was actually from a store that only sold fish. The floors were always wet and the smell could sometimes knock you out, assuming of course that you were able to get away without looking into the eyes of all those dead fish.

Myths and Facts About Fish

I was always told in the “old” days that you should NEVER buy fish on Monday because fisherman ONLY worked Monday through Thursday so all you could get was fish left over from Thursday's catch. Thank you, Grandma! Trust me, folks; fisherman work every day.

In the mid-Western part of the United States, fish-fry on Friday is a big thing. Wisconsin is the “Fish Fry Capital of the World.” People got through eating the “fish” by smothering it with batter and tartar sauce. Getting French fries and coleslaw was the treat that encouraged you to eat the fish. You didn’t go for the fish; you went for the crunchy and the creamy stuff.

Good news! At some point “they” decided that fish was brain food. Better news! Scientists discovered that fish and the oils were actually good for your heart.

Even with the health and brain benefits, fish sales slumped when the Vatican relented on fish-less Fridays. Recently, sales have picked up some, but according to MY fish-monger (yes, they do still exist), sales are not what they were when his dad started the business. In those days there were lines around the block from noontime on. Did we realize we were eating healthier back then (gray-colored casseroles not included)?

Just Keep an Open Mind

I don’t want you to think that this article is intended to change anybody’s mind about fish. Tastes are very strange. I have this friend who hates fish. She has hated it since her first day at Saints of Perpetual Patience High School and Girls Reformatory. The funny thing is that her daughter hates fish. Her daughter has NEVER even tasted fish. I guess if her mom hates it, well, that is good enough for her.

Old habits die very slowly, even for me. If you think you hate fish and have always hated fish, nothing I can say will change your mind. We are creatures of old habits.

When I was working a Monday-through-Friday schedule, I made it a point to get fresh fish every Saturday. Now, my schedule is more flexible, but guess where I am Saturday mornings? I can go any day of the week now, but Saturday is fish day.

Now what happens when you don’t actually think you like fish? Will all the good medical news make you like it more? Probably not. Perhaps the way to re-think fish (or anything else you think you don’t like) is to look at it in a new way. Try a different preparation. Try a new sauce.

Think that the only way you will eat any kind of fish is tuna from a can as a tuna salad? How about adding that tuna from the can to a spinach salad? Better yet, try fresh tuna on the grill with some herbs and lemon. Think fish tastes too strong? Balance out the flavor with a rich marinade, like an orange-balsamic marinade, or spread some pesto (basil) sauce on the fish before baking.

What? You will ONLY eat fish fry? Go ahead, eat fish fry. If you are wondering how a person with diabetes can do that, do an oven “fried” fish. It has less breading, less carbohydrates and less oil or fat, but the same crunch. Less calories but great flavor. You can even make oven “fried” potatoes to go along with your oven “fried” fish. There is no need to skimp on the slaw as it is naturally low in carbohydrates if you use a sugar substitute in the dressing (see my recipe for Skinny Slaw). Can’t tolerate fish without tartar sauce? No problem; make your own with mayonnaise and a sugar-free pickle relish.

Still HATE fish? Simple solution: Don’t eat it. Would you maybe consider roasted shrimp? No, okay. Thought I’d try.

There is plenty of food out there that you can have. Just keep an open mind and, in the case of tuna, and open can.

Enjoy, be happy, be healthy, be creative, and BE DECADENT!

Click here for Ward's Oven 'Fried' Fish with Tartar Sauce recipe!

Get more nutrition tips and recipe ideas from Ward Alper, the Decadent Diabetic, on his website.