Saturday, April 23, 2016

The impressive nutrition value of whole dried small fish

When I visited Japan several years ago I noticed a variety of dried small fish for sale in grocery stores and supermarkets. They came in what seemed to be vacuum-packed flat plastic bags, often dried. The packing was a bit like that of beef jerky in the USA. Since I could not read the labels, I could not tell if preservatives or things like sugar were added. Beef jerky often has sugar added to it; at least the popular brands.

I have since incorporated dried or almost dried small fish, eaten whole, into my diet. My family eats it, but they don’t seem to like it as much as I do. The easiest small fish to find for sale where I live are smelts. A previous post has a recipe (). I can easily eat 200 g of smelts, about twice as much as on the plate below; not quite dried, but almost so. The veggies are a mix of lettuce and cabbage.


As you can see from the macronutrient composition below (from Nutritiondata.com, for a 100 g portion), 200 g of smelts have about 112 g of protein, and 36 g of fat. No carbohydrates; or a very small amount of them.


Unless you misguidedly think that they will “give you cholesterol”, the macronutrient to calorie ratio of a plate with 200 g of dried (or almost dried) smelts is very good. Let us take a look at the fat content, below (from Nutritiondata.com as well), which is for 100 g of dried smelts.


The “net” omega-3 content of 200 g of dried smelts, after subtracting the omega-6 content, is approximately 4.4 g. The concept of “net” omega-3 content was discussed in a previous post ().

So, the net omega-3 content of 200 g of dried smelts is the equivalent to the net omega-3 content of about 20 fish oil softgels. (Yes, you read it right!) And you would get a lot more omega-6 from the softgels.

Not to mention the fact that isolated omega-3 and omega-6 fats tend to become oxidized much more easily than when they come in “nature’s package”.

Below is the mineral content (also from Nutritiondata.com) of a 100 g portion. Dried smelts are clearly a very good source of selenium. The significant amount of calcium comes mostly from the bones, as with many varieties of small fish that are eaten whole. Combined with the above, we could say that, overall, the nutrient content is high up there next to beef liver as a super food; a natural multivitamin, if you will.


Smelts, like many small non-predatory fish, are not a significant source of toxic metals. Many people avoid seafood because of concerns about toxic metal contamination, particularly mercury. The infamous incident that led to a major scare in that respect – in Minamata, Japan – did involve consumption of small marine animals. But it also involved years of direct and indirect exposure to very high levels of methylmercury from untreated industrial waste.

Other cases have been reported among populations consuming large amounts of whale, shark, dogfish and other relatively large marine animals with tissues compromised via biomagnification. Generally speaking, large predatory fish and predatory aquatic mammals are best avoided as food. If they are consumed, they should be consumed very sporadically.

Many people would say that a plate like the one above, with smelts and veggies, is not very appetizing. But I can really devour it quickly and go for seconds. How come? I use a special spice that enhances the natural flavor or almost any combination of “natural” foods – foods that are not engineered by humans – making them taste delicious.

This special spice is “hunger”. This spice can be your best friend, or your worst enemy.

34 comments:

Roger said...

I love whitebait, so these look tasty Ned. A quick search here in the UK yields products advertised as cat or turtle food. Did you find some that were actually marketed to humans? I think I might give the cat food a go :-)

Anonymous said...

Could you please put on your shirt again?! We have now understood the importance and the ways of obtaining Vitamin D. Now we are looking for statistical or nutritional information, not for "softporn" already on the homepage.

Thanks a lot.

Leticia Kock said...

Dr. Kock, for the sake of your integrity and the integrity of all your viewers I strongly advise you NOT to post the other half of your picture on your blog......:-):-)

Anonymous said...

Alright, where can we get these? Asian markets? Whole Foods? Trader Joes? Has anyone already done the leg-work in identifying where these are found?

Ned Kock said...

Hi Roger. Can’t you have small fish like these shipped to you from Southend-on-Sea?

Smelts are popular in Finland, if I’m not mistaken. Maybe it would not be hard to get them shipped from there into other places in Europe.

Ned Kock said...

Judging from Leticia’s offline reaction to the “softporn” comment, she wasn’t only amused by it, but probably also thought that it was flattering.

An effect quite the opposite of what was intended, I guess.

Ned Kock said...

Okay Anon (1), let me tell you something. I find many people’s preoccupation with covering every inch of skin, because it is “proper”, a bit tragic.

It is a bit like starving yourself from a nutritious natural food, and then going for a pill later. And you get a whole lot more from the sun than vitamin D.

Ned Kock said...

As soon as a food industry entrepreneur sees the opportunity here, we’ll see small dried fish sold like beef jerky in supermarkets.

Hopefully without the sugar.

Javed Alam said...

What about the containers they come in? I am getting afraid of BPA.

Aaron Blaisdell said...

Very cool, Ned. I have canned sardines and canned oysters on regular rotation. I'll have to add smelts to the mix! They look delicious.

They fit very well to the theory of recent human evolution (past 100k years or so) laid out in the edited volume: Human Brain Evolution: The Influence of Freshwater and Marine Food Resources by Cunnane and Stewart.

tom scott said...

Have you ever been to Alaska and tried the hooligan (euchalon). It is slightly larger than Lake Michigan smelt and very, very oily. The Alaska natives near Haines, Ak collected the oil for lamps. Really good fish. My wife's family from Taiwan love them. We get small dried fish and shrimp in Taiwan.
http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/Smelt.htm

Ned Kock said...

Hi Javed. It seems like bisphenol A is not really such a major problem with canned seafood, as many seem to believe. Potentially bisphenol F could be, if it was allowed; my understanding is that it is not. See this article:

http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S027869150800015X

I would have to look into it further, but it seems that plastic products such as water bottles are much bigger health hazards regarding these compounds than anything else.

Ned Kock said...

Hi Aaron. I also prepare and eat sardines whole in a similar way (link below). After a day or two in the fridge they acquire a similar dried-like texture, which I like. It is an acquired taste.

http://bit.ly/Akcfs8

Ned Kock said...

Hi Tom. No, I haven’t, but I will next time I visit Alaska.

There are a lot of great things about the largest state in the USA!

psychic24 said...

"Several studies show that dried fish and pickled vegetables are carcinogenic, probably because of the oxidized fats, and other chemical changes, and fungal contamination, which are likely to be worse without the salt. Animals fed dried fish were found to have mutagenic urine, apparently as a result of toxic materials occurring in various preserved foods (Fong, et al., 1979)."

from Ray Peat's http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/salt.shtml

psychic24 said...

I also had a question about eating these fish, specifically in regards to their thyroid glands. When you consume the whole fish, are you in effect getting their thyroids, or are they too small to elicit any reaction similar to consuming desiccated porcine or bovine thyroids?

Ned Kock said...

Hi psychic24. I would assume that canning and pickling processes have evolved significantly since the 1970s.

Ned Kock said...

Fish eaten whole include thyroid glands. Thus if you eat many fish you should end ingesting more than an insignificant amount of thyroid tissue.

What I don’t know is whether the constitution of thyroid glands in fish is such that the effect would be similar to that of the thyroids of larger mammals.

Connie said...

Do you like these better than sardines? I love sardines and they're so easy and convenient - 1 serving size, easy to find and portable. I get the 2 layer brislings packed in olive oil, drain the olive oil and add mustard (which has healthy turmeric). I dunno - just can't get past how the smelts look and after reading Chris Kresser's post on plastics, don't like the fact that they're packaged in plastic.

Galina L. said...

In Russia dried fish is a standard snack, and small packages of it are sold next to potato chips and salted peanuts, also it is what people eat while they drink beer. In USA dried fish is sold in oriental stores and in Russian food stores. Actually, in Russian stores in USA you can buy a variety of fish, not sold in regular places, like smoked mackerel(hot smocked and cold smoked), salted herring in oil, smoked sprouts in cans, cod liver in cod oil. Normally fish contains salt only, but once I bought a pack of dried calamari in an oriental store, it contained more sugar than salt, so it went to garbage. I remember buying salmon jerky in Canada , most probably it contained some sugar.

goodwinnihon said...
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Ned Kock said...

Hi Connie. I like the sardines too, particularly after one day or so – dry and cold. Go figure!

Ned Kock said...

Thanks for the info. Galina!

Ned Kock said...

Hi goodwinnihon. I noticed the same thing in Japan – apparently no problems with insulin resistance even consuming junk food.

This Japanese “paradox” may be in part due to the mothers in the older generations still clinging to traditional dietary habits.

Once mothers develop diabetes, than the problem seems to get worse in future generations. That is what many like to call an “epigenetic” phenomenon.

First exposure to high glucose levels in the womb may be a lot worse than first exposure as a child.

julie said...

Round these parts, not only can you find dried fish, but seahorses, 12 types of ginseng, dried deer penis, and stuff I can't say for sure if animal or plant or whathaveyou. There is also Japantown and a Russian area, all sorts of dried and smoked and fresh fish available all over. I can tolerate sardines, wish I liked them and others more.

Tom said...
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Conway Calin said...
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online bookie said...
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Shreesh said...

Thanks for the post Ned, fully with you on the nutritional benefits. Dried fish is a big phenomenon in India where the poor man has no access to refrigeration facilities and finds it too costly to buy fresh fish off the refrigeration-driven-retail-supply-chains. I started dried fish only a few years ago and am amazed at the variety on offer. The most popular variety in india is small whole shrimp ... see image here http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-JxFx47X4dhY/Uz6T21257PI/AAAAAAAACcc/shPzNWEIc-I/s1600/IMG_4637a.jpg Unfortunately, big poultry-feed guys and fertiliser companies are catching up on the secret and hence jacking up the prices out of reach for the poor man.

Imran Hosen said...
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Ned Kock said...

Spam comments above deleted.

Ned Kock said...

This post is a revised version of a previous post. The original comments are preserved here. More comments welcome, but no spam please!

Anonymous said...

Asian markets always stock a variety of dried fish, seafood. In our household we all partake; humans, dogs, cats.

Noora said...

In Finland, regular supermarkets sell only dried fish for dogs and cats. Of course you can get them from Asian markets. Smelt (kuore or norssi) is not sold either fresh as it smells quite peculiar like fresh cucumber.