It’s not the obvious event for a dietitian to attend, but on Tuesday I went to The National Fish & Chip Awards 2015. Living by the seaside and being a firm supporter of the fishing industry (as well as working as a nutrition consultant for Seafish, who organised the event), I wanted to fly the flag.
How can I defend this? Fish and chips is loaded with calories and fat – a disaster for our waistline and heart with a typical portion of cod in batter and side of chips containing around 880kcal and 44g fat. Then we smother it with salt that’s just waiting to push up our blood pressure! And we add more salt and sugar when we dollop on ketchup – and extra calories and fat if we dip our chips in mayo.
With about 10,500 takeaway fish and chip shops in the UK, collectively serving around 380 million meals each year, that’s a huge contribution to our national intakes of the bad stuff. Indeed, a typical cod and chip supper provides 44% of daily calorie needs and 63% of a day’s needs for fat. But before we write off this classic combo, there’s plenty of good stuff to consider.
The good nutrition
- Providing you skip the salt pot, a typical portion of cod and chips contains no more than 0.4g salt. As we should have less than 6g a day, that makes it a good choice for a main meal.
- It’s loaded with protein, which improves satiety – a serving provides three-quarters of our daily needs.
- It’s not just protein that provides the filling factor – one portion also has almost a third of our daily needs for fibre – and that’s without mushy peas.
- It’s the vitamins and minerals that really shine through. Most dietitians recommend that a main meal provides around 30% of our daily needs for calories and nutrients. This meal is a real winner, containing at least 30% of our daily needs for magnesium, copper and vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6.
- Better still, a typical portion provides 63% of our daily needs for folate; 72% phosphorus and selenium; almost one and half times more vitamin B12; and over twice the amount of potassium and iodine!
A worthy award
All in all, it appears to be a dietitian’s dream plate of food! But the calories and fat still worry me, especially as obesity is headline news and heart disease remains the number one killer in the UK. So I was particularly pleased to see one of the awards was for Healthy Eating Fish and Chips. There were three nominations, including Fishcity in Ballynahinch, County Down, and Harbourside Fish & Chips in Plymouth (pictured, above). I’d actually been to the latter after a family outing to Plymouth Aquarium (oh the irony)! And we all agreed it was the best fish and chips we’d ever eaten.
In fact, the award went to Towngate Fisheries in Bradford. This chippie offers lighter options, including a mini haddock and small chips plate for 499kcal and 28g fat (or 571kcal with the addition of peas). They also offer alternatives to traditional battered fish, including poached haddock – perfect for anyone counting calories or who needs to avoid gluten or wheat. Plus, LoSalt – an alternative to salt that replaces around two-thirds of the sodium in salt with potassium – is offered as well as the regular white stuff. In fact, LoSalt (who sponsored this award) are working with hundreds of fish and chip shops to help fans reduce the amount of sodium – the blood-pressure-raising component of salt – in their diet.
As for the menu at the event! Well, naturally, I was expecting fish and chips. But even I can see how that could leave hotel chefs sinking rather than swimming – 650 portions of fish and chips for, well, 650 experts on this dish! Instead, we had delicious smoked cod with curly kale, rösti potato, baby leeks, baby onion and a champagne sauce.