Everyone knows that eating fish is not only tasty, but also healthy. As a rule, from fish we get essential fatty acids. However, today there is a lot of confusion about which fish is better to eat, because many fish accumulate in themselves mercury and other heavy metals that are harmful to human health. Based on what we know about fishing methods, mercury levels, and other factors, we consider the benefits and harms of herring to the human body.
Herring is eaten for a long time. This fish was extremely widespread in some parts of the world – the Mediterranean and in the territory of modern Russia about 3000 BC. According to many studies that have studied the effects of eating fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and other nutrients, some of the beneficial properties of herring include:
- Protection against metabolic syndrome, heart disease and diabetes
- Reduced risk of developing autoimmune disease symptoms
- Help in the growth and development of infants and children
- Help prevent Vitamin D deficiency and low immunity
- Protection against cognitive impairment, memory loss, and mood disorders (depression)
- Less medication needed to treat conditions like hypertension or high cholesterol
- Cancer Risk Reduction
And much more
What is herring
Herring is a common type of fish that is consumed worldwide by the Clupeidae family. Two species of valuable commercial fish are distinguished – Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) and Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii). Herring is a marine fish that lives in the northern regions of the two largest oceans of the planet. According to the British Encyclopedia “One of the most common fish species in the world, herring feeds on such tiny organisms as copepods, pteropods and other planktonic crustaceans, as well as fish larvae” ( 1 ). Each female herring produces about 40 thousand eggs during spawning periods, leaving eggs on algae or stones before new fish hatch from her in about two weeks.
Herring is described as a “shallow, streamlined fish with silver rainbow sides and a dark blue metal back. Typically, the fish are small, fat and bony (like sardines). Each fish has a size of about 20 to 38 centimeters. Due to their small size, herring often travel in very large shoals.
The growth of fish occurs in the first four years of life. The total life expectancy is about 20 years. However, most fish live less because of natural predators and fishing. Predators that survive at least partially in the herring are usually larger fish (cod, salmon and tuna ), as well as dolphins, whales, sharks and seabirds. The most common methods of catching herring today are the use of large drift nets, which are usually deployed with the aim of catching not large fish, namely herring.
Nutritional value and nutritional properties of herring
Eating herring is one of the best ways to get natural omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, which are associated with many benefits, including reducing inflammation, improving mental health, normal brain development and growth, reducing the symptoms of autoimmune disease, and improving heart health. Omega-3s are types of polyunsaturated fatty acids that have strong immunomodulatory activity. Omega-3 consists of two types of acids: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which are found in fish and seafood and are considered the most biologically active acid along with alpha-linolenic acid, which is found in nuts and seeds.
Not only does herring provide omega-3 fatty acids, but it is also a good way to get more vitamin D, selenium and B vitamins (especially vitamin B12, vitamin B2 / riboflavin and vitamin B3 / niacin). Other nutrients found in herring include phosphorus, calcium, potassium, iron, and selenium.
One half of a large Atlantic herring fillet (about 100 grams) contains approximately:
Calories : 158 kcal
Proteins : 18 gr.
Fat : 9 gr.
Omega-3 fatty acids : 2.133 mg.
Vitamin D : 1384 IU (346%)
Vitamin B12 : 13.6 mcg (180%)
Selenium : 33 mcg (48%)
Niacin : 3.2 mg (15%)
Riboflavin : 0.2 mg (12%)
Vitamin B6 : 0.3 mg (20%)
Potassium : 327 mg (9%)
Sodium : 74 mg (2%)
100 grams of salted or pickled herring contains about:
Calories : 262 kcal
Protein : 14 gr.
Fat : 18 gr.
Omega-3 fatty acids : 1,679 mg.
Vitamin D : 190 IU (48%)
Vitamin B12 : 4.27 mcg (50%)
Selenium : 16.4 mcg (23%)
Niacin : 3.3 mg (15%)
Riboflavin : 0.1 mg (6%)
Vitamin A : 258 IU (5%)
Sodium : 870 mg (40%)
The benefits of herring for the body
Let us denote several proven beneficial properties of herring for the body. Note that both cooked fresh fish and canned (salted or pickled) herring have the same benefits.
1. Herring – A Rich Source of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids protect against diseases in various ways, including by:
- Decreased inflammation and autoimmune reactions
- Effects on intracellular signaling pathways and transcription factor activity
- Effects on the genome
- Decreased levels of interleukin 1 (IL-1), a pro-inflammatory cytokine
Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, omega-3 contributes to a lower risk of developing coronary heart disease, deep depression, aging symptoms such as joint pain, cancer, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and autoimmune diseases such as lupus.
A 2012 report published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition says:
A number of clinical trials have been conducted that evaluated the benefits of dietary supplements with fish oils for several inflammatory and autoimmune diseases in humans, including rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis and migraine headaches. Many of the placebo-controlled studies of fish oil in chronic inflammatory diseases show significant benefits, including reduced disease activity and reduced use of anti-inflammatory drugs ( 2 ).
2. Herring contains many vitamins and minerals
One serving of herring provides more than 100% of the daily need for vitamin D, which is especially impressive, given that in many other foods this vitamin is extremely small and completely absent. Herring also contains a good dose of selenium, as well as other important trace elements, including calcium, potassium and iron. One medium serving of herring even covers your entire daily need for vitamin B12.
Vitamin D is a nutrient that acts like a hormone in the body, helping to maintain the immune system and improve mental health. Vitamin B12 is needed to help prevent fatigue, weakness and distraction, but it is not found in many diets with low quality protein sources (such as vegetarian food), especially animal protein. Selenium is essential for maintaining healthy bones, the thyroid gland, cognitive health and good cardiovascular health.
3. May help reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome
Because omega-3 fatty acids help control inflammation and regulate hormones, research shows that consuming more sources of omega-3s can help reduce the risk of diseases like diabetes or heart disease. One study found that feeding rats with diabetes with various fish species (including sardines, mackerel, herring) led to an improvement in a number of health-related parameters, including serum glucose, cholesterol and triglycerides.
Compared with the control group (insulin-dependent diabetes rats), fish-fed rats showed significant improvements in the regulation of glucose, lipid fractions, kidneys and liver, especially with mackerel and sardines, which are leaders in omega-3 content fatty acids ( 3 ).
4. Herring is a good source of protein as an alternative to meat
Herring is an affordable source of protein and an excellent alternative to consuming other types of expensive fish (especially those that contain a lot of mercury), dairy products or meat. If you want to reduce meat consumption, but also want it to fit into your budget, try canned sardines or salted herring (herring), which are usually inexpensive and stored for a long time.
Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids is a more healthy and therefore preferred protein product compared to meat, especially for people at increased risk of heart disease. Instead of cooking fried chicken or cutlet for dinner, it is better to use sardines or herring instead.
Experiment by trying out a variety of healthy recipes, such as fried or stewed fish in a pan with spices and lemon, or baked fish with vegetables. Believe me, the harm from red meat is greater than even the potential harm from fish. The benefits that even simple herring will give the body will be much more than the benefits of meat.
5. Herring contains a minimum amount of mercury
Typically, fish that are at the bottom or close to the bottom of the food chain contain the least mercury. Given that herring is not a predator, herring and sardines usually contain much less mercury than large fish such as tuna or swordfish. However, herring may contain a certain amount of mercury, which depends on the age and size of the fish – accordingly, the older and larger the herring, the more mercury in it.
Water pollution also affects the safety and benefits of eating herring, but experts believe that this is not a serious problem when eating sardines or herring. In general, the recommendation here is the following – it is better to eat smaller types of herring or sardines, because the larger the fish, the more harmful it is for the body.
6. Catching herring does not harm the environment
While overfishing usually raises serious concerns about species such as cod or salmon, herring remains a very abundant fish. Therefore, fishing for herring is not a problem for the environment. Studies show that the populations of these fish are not that they are not decreasing – they are growing! As populations of some predatory fish continue to decline, herring and sardines are more likely to survive and are more likely to reproduce successfully.
Herring or sardine – which is better
Although you may not have much experience in cooking herring, because in raw form it is not so often found in the store. But sardines are much easier to find.
Herring caught in the Atlantic, especially near Canada or off the coast of the northeast coast of the United States, is usually caught when it is young and small. Then canned and sold under the name “sardines.” Most of the time when the fish are still young, they are called sardines. As soon as they grow and ripen, they are then called herring.
Sardines mean “small fish.” Sardines earned their name many years ago due to the abundance of the island of Sardinia, a large island in the Mediterranean Sea near Italy, where many people still tend to eat sardines often. Other countries in which sardines are popular include Canada, France, Portugal, Spain, Russia, Scandinavian countries, the UK, Germany and, increasingly, the United States. Sardines are considered one of the healthiest fish in the world, in addition to being one of the best options in terms of their low environmental impact, as their populations are quite large and continue to grow. They are relatively inexpensive and easy to find. Sardines are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and many other nutrients, including those mentioned above.
Fortunately, herring and sardines are almost always “wild”, that is, they are rarely grown on farms, but mostly caught in the oceans. This ensures that the fish is unlikely to be poisoned by additional toxins that feed fish on farms for better growth. And from such a herring grown under natural conditions there will be guaranteed benefits and no harm to the body.
How to cook herring
Depending on which part of the world you live in, you may have access to a herring that is for sale:
- fresh (usually harder to find)
- in sushi and rolls
- in salt form
- pickled in barrels
- smoked and smoked
Pickled herring is very popular in Russia. It is used to prepare a traditional salad “herring under a fur coat”, and is also used along with boiled potatoes and herbs.
Potential harm to herring
Any food product must be consumed in moderation. Possible harm to herring can only be from excessive consumption of this fish. Especially if you like salted or pickled herring. But in this case, the harm to the body will not be the fish itself, but from the abundance of sodium salt, which is contained in the marinade. Side effects may include: gastrointestinal upsets and high blood pressure.
If you eat herring sparingly and not every day, then this fish will only benefit your body and no harm.
Final thoughts on herring
- Herring is a small but valuable commercial fish that lives in the North Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.
- The beneficial properties of herring are the high content of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and selenium in it. Some studies show that these fish may be useful in preventing inflammation and reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome.
- You can eat cooked fresh herring (stewed, fried, baked) or salted and pickled. Herring is considered beneficial fish with low mercury levels or toxicity.