You know fish is good for you. "It's a rich source of protein and healthy fats," says Cassie Dimmick, M.S., R.D., a sports dietitian in Springfield, Missouri. But that doesn't mean you eat it: 48 percent of respondents to a runnersworld.com poll said they eat seafood only occasionally and usually at restaurants. What's the problem? If fresh fish seems inconvenient, expensive, and hard to prepare, you're forgetting about a handy option: canned swimmers. In many ways canned fish is a better choice. Multiple common varieties offer less-expensive, better-tasting products naturally low in toxins and contaminants and, as a bonus, harvested in an environmentally sustainable way. Shelf-stable and already cooked, canned fish is there when you're ready for a protein-rich recovery meal. Try these tasty meal suggestions below, or watch this video on Little Fish, Big Health Benefits to learn which fish are safe to eat.
CAN DO: Anchovies
This tiny, silvery fish has a robust, savory flavor. The canned or jarred fillets are a good source of heart-healthy omega-3 fats and rich in selenium. "There is some research suggesting selenium helps with joint health," says Molly Kimball, R.D., a sports dietitian in New Orleans, "and omega-3 fats can help fight inflammation." Anchovies are also an excellent source of niacin, which the body uses to convert food into energy. Quick to reproduce, wild anchovy populations are healthy and there is little contamination risk. The fish is often salt-cured and packed in olive oil, which makes them ideal after a sweaty run when you need electrolytes (or to eliminate some of the salt, soak them in water for 30 minutes and pat dry with paper towels).
TRY THIS: Anchovy and Olive Pizza
Brush whole-wheat pitas with oil. Broil for two minutes, until golden. Spread pizza sauce on top. Sprinkle with chopped anchovies (4 per pita), sliced kalamata olives, sliced artichoke hearts, red pepper flakes, and shredded mozzarella. Broil one minute, or until cheese melts. Garnish with basil.
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CAN DO: Crab
Canned crab meat is a great way to reel in muscle-friendly protein, bone-building phosphorus, and the mineral zinc. In fact, just three ounces provide nearly a quarter of your daily need. "Zinc is necessary for many functions that are essential to runners," says Dimmick, "including protein metabolism and immune function." The best brands of lump or white crab meat will have a firm texture and a clean, light flavor--and no fishy scent. Jumbo lump crab meat comes from the large muscles that drive the crab's swimming legs, giving it a meatier texture and earning it a more expensive price tag worthy of the occasional splurge.
TRY THIS: Crab and Black Bean Tacos
Whisk 1/2 cup yogurt, 1 teaspoon curry powder, and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne. In another bowl, stir two 6-ounce cans crab, one 15-ounce can rinsed black beans, and one cubed mango. Spread on tortillas. Top with baby spinach and curry yogurt. Eat taco-style.
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CAN DO: Salmon
Canned salmon is one of the richest sources of the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA. "These fats decrease heart-disease risk and improve bone strength," says Dimmick, "which may help runners avoid stress fractures." They're also an excellent source of protein and vitamin D. Some canned salmon comes with the bones, which are soft and edible and provide calcium-but boneless varieties are available for the squeamish. Either canned pink salmon or sockeye is a good bet. The former is less expensive, while the latter contains 65 percent more vitamin D and 35 percent more omega-3s. Both are mainly harvested from sustainable wild stocks in Alaska.
TRY THIS: Avocado Salmon Cakes
Mix two 6-ounce cans salmon, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup bread crumbs, 1/3 cup milk, 1 shredded zucchini, and 2 teaspoons curry powder. Stuff into 8 greased muffin cups. Bake at 350°F for 25 minutes. In a food processor, puree 1 avocado, 1/2 cup yogurt, juice of 1 lime, 1 teaspoon wasabi, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Serve salmon cakes with avocado sauce.
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CAN DO: Sardines
Sardines provide a dose of omega-3s, vitamin B12, and vitamin D. "Studies show vitamin D may enhance athletic performance and even help prevent diabetes," says Kimball. A 2012 study suggests getting plenty of D can help reduce your risk of catching a bug. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch lists sardines as a "best choice," thanks to its nutritional might, sustainability, and low toxin risk. If eating the calcium-rich bones isn't your thing, you can buy ones without. Stick to fish packed in heart-healthy olive oil (not poor quality vegetable oils), or save calories by choosing those in water or tomato sauce.
TRY THIS: Sardine Penne with Prosciutto
Combine 1 pound cooked whole-wheat penne, three 4-ounce tins sardines (chop them), 2 ounces diced prosciutto, 2 cups sliced cherry tomatoes, 1/2 cup toasted walnuts, and 1 tablespoon fresh thyme. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup olive oil, juice of 1/2 lemon, 3 minced garlic cloves, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes. Toss dressing with pasta and garnish with Parmesan.
CAN DO Tuna
If you've steered clear of tuna in recent years because of its mercury content, you can put this fish back on the menu. New canning companies, including Wild Planet and Raincoast Trading, pack smaller albacore tuna, which means these fish have had less time to accumulate mercury (other brands that pack larger albacore still carry high levels of this toxin). Both companies also test for mercury content and harvest their fish using environmentally friendly methods. While canned skipjack (or "chunk light") tuna has always been a low-mercury option, meatier-tasting albacore contains four times more omega-3s. A four-ounce serving of tuna also packs 32 grams of muscle-building protein--as much as a similarly sized chicken breast.
TRY THIS: Tuna Salad with Parsley Dressing
Toss together 4 cups baby spinach, two 5-ounce cans drained albacore tuna, 1 can rinsed cannellini beans, 1 diced avocado, 1 sliced red pepper, 1 diced cucumber, 1 chopped orange, and 1/2 cup sliced red onion. In a food processor, pulse 1 bunch parsley leaves, 1/3 cup olive oil, juice of 1/2 lemon, 1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar, 1 minced garlic clove, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Serve tuna salad with parsley dressing.
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