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Halibut

The firm white meat and delicately sweet flavor of halibut, combined with its high nutritional value, make it a favorite among fish lovers. Fishing season for halibut is in the summer and fall when it is available fresh and of optimum quality. Frozen halibut is available throughout the year.

Halibut is the largest of the flatfish and one of the largest of the saltwater fish with catches that weight in at up to 660 pounds. It is a lean fish that features finely textured, snow white flesh that contains few bones; its gray-brown skin is also edible.

 


Health Benefits

Halibut are truly a nutrient-dense food. A very good source of high quality protein, halibut are rich in significant amounts of a variety of important nutrients including the minerals selenium, magnesium, phosphorous and potassium; the B vitamins B12, niacin, and B6; and perhaps most important, the beneficial omega-3 essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acids are so named because they are essential for our health but cannot be made by the body; they must therefore be obtained from foods. Cold-water fish like halibut are a rich source of the omega-3 essential fats, a form of essential fatty acids in which the standard American diet is sorely deficient. (The other form of essential fatty acids, the omega-6s, are plentiful in a variety of commonly consumed oils such as corn and safflower oil. In fact, the omega-6s are so plentiful in the typical American diet that too much omega-6 is consumed in proportion to omega-3s--an imbalance that promotes inflammation, thus contributing to virtually every chronic disease in which inflammation is a key component.)

Cardiovascular Health

Omega-3 fatty acids provide a broad array of cardiovascular benefits. Omega-3s benefit the cardiovascular system by helping to prevent erratic heart rhythms, making blood less likely to clot inside arteries (which is the ultimate cause of most heart attacks), and improving the ratio of good (HDL) cholesterol to potentially harmful (LDL) cholesterol. And, as mentioned above, omega-3s reduce inflammation, which is a key component in the processes that turn cholesterol into artery-clogging plaques.

Halibut is also a good source of vitamin B12 and vitamin B6--two B vitamins that, along with folic acid, lower levels of homocysteine. Homocysteine, an intermediate compound produced during the methylation cycle, is directly damaging to artery walls, and elevated blood levels of homocysteine are considered an important risk factor for atherosclerosis.

Last, but far from least, halibut is a very good source of magnesium. Magnesium is Nature's own calcium channel blocker. When enough magnesium's around, veins and arteries breathe a sigh of relief and relax, which lessens resistance and improves the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Studies show that a deficiency of magnesium is not only associated with heart attack but that immediately following a heart attack, lack of sufficient magnesium promotes free radical injury to the heart.

Stroke Prevention

A recent study showed that eating fish lowers the risk of certain types of strokes. The study, which involved almost 80,000 nurses during a 15-year period revealed that those women who ate fish 2 to 4 times per week had a 27% reduced risk of stroke compared to women who ate fish one a month. Eating fish five or more times per week reduced the risk of certain strokes 52%.

A meta-analysis of 8 studies published in the July 2004 issue of Stroke supports earlier studies showing halibut may help prevent stroke in men as well as women. Eating fish as little as 1 to 3 times per month may protect against ischemic stroke (a stroke caused by lack of blood supply to the brain, for example, as a result of a blood clot). Data on nine independent groups participating in eight different studies found that, compared to those who never consumed fish or ate fish less than once per month, risk of ischemic stroke dropped:

  • 9% in those eating fish 1 to 3 times per month
  • 13% in those eating fish once per week
  • 18% in those eating fish 2 to 4 times per week
  • 31% in those eating fish 5 or more times each week
(October 11, 2004)

Atrial Fibrillation (Heart Arrhythmia)

Eating halibut that's broiled or baked, but not fried, may reduce risk of atrial fibrillation, the most common type of heart arrhythmia, especially in the elderly, according to a Harvard study published in the July 2004 issue of Circulation. In the 12-year study of 4,815 people 65 years of age or older, eating canned tuna or other broiled or baked fish 1 to 4 times a week correlated with increased blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids and a 28% lower risk of atrial fibrillation. Eating broiled or baked fish 5 times a week lowered risk even more— a drop in atrial fibrillation risk of 31%.

Eating fried fish, however, provided no similar protection. Not only is fried fish typically made from lean fish like cod and Pollack that provide fewer omega-3 fatty acids, but in addition, frying results in the production of damaged, free-radical-laden fats in the fish as well as the frying oil.(December 13, 2004)

Promote Detoxification

In addition to halibut's omega-3s, the selenium it contains is a necessary component in one of the body's most important antioxidants--glutathione peroxidase--which is critical for a healthy liver, the organ responsible for detoxifying and clearing potentially harmful compounds such as pesticides, drugs, and heavy metals from the body. Selenium also helps prevent cancer and heart disease.

Cancer Protection

Eating even small amounts of fish may protect against ovarian and digestive tract cancers. A total of 10,149 cancer patients with 19 different types of cancer and 7,990 controls were included in a recent study conducted in Spanish hospitals. The researchers determined that eating more fish correlates with a reduced risk of certain cancers. Fish eaters had less cancer in the ovaries, pancreas, and all parts of the digestive tract including the mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, colon and rectum. Some of the cancer protective effects of fish, such as halibut, may come from its being a great source of omega 3 fatty acids. Recent in vitro (test tube) evidence suggests that this beneficial effect is related to the fact that when omega-3s are consumed in the diet, they are incorporated into cell membranes where they promote cancer cell apoptosis via several mechanisms including: inhibiting a pro-inflammatory enzyme called cyclooxygenase 2 (COX 2), which promotes breast cancer; activating a type of receptor in cell membranes called peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR)-ã, which can shut down proliferative activity in a variety of cells including breast cells; and, increasing the expression of BRCA1 and BRCA2, tumor suppressor genes that, when functioning normally, help repair damage to DNA, thus helping to prevent cancer development.

Lower Your Risk of Leukemia, Multiple Myeloma, and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Fishermen have, in epidemiological studies, been identified as having a lower risk of leukemia, multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, an occupational benefit that researchers thought might be due to the fact that they eat more fish. Now, a Canadian study published in the April 2004 issue of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention suggests that persons whose diet includes more weekly servings of fresh fatty fish have a much lower risk of these three types of cancer. Data drawn from a survey of the fish eating habits of 6,800 Canadians indicates that those consuming the most fatty fish decreased their risk of leukemia by 28%, their risk of multiple myeloma by 36%, and their risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma by 29%. Overall, frequent eaters of fatty fish reduced their risk for all forms of lymphomas by 30%.(August 3, 2004)

Prevent Macular Degeneration

Eating fish rich in omega-3s, such as halibut, may protect against age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a currently untreatable disease that causes fuzziness, shadows or other distortions in the center of vision.

In a recently published study, investigators tracked participants for several years and calculated the types of fat and total fat they ate. Those who ate the most fat overall increased their risk of AMD, while those who ate fish reduced their risk of developing the eye disease. Diets containing saturated fats from animals and unsaturated fats from vegetable oils were associated with modest increases in the risk of developing AMD, although omega-3 fats from fish actually reduced the risk. A specific omega-3 fish fat, called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is concentrated in the retina of the eye and may help protect and promote healthy retinal function.

Protect against Alzheimer's and Age-related Cognitive Decline

Research published in the August 2004 issue of the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry indicates regular consumption of niacin-rich foods like chicken provides protection against Alzheimer's disease and age-related cognitive decline.

Researchers from the Chicago Health and Aging Project interviewed 3,718 Chicago residents aged 65 or older about their diet, then tested their cognitive abilities over the following six years. Those getting the most niacin from foods (22 mg per day) were 70% less likely to have developed Alzheimer's disease than those consuming the least (about 13 mg daily), and their rate of age-related cognitive decline was significantly less. (August 23, 2004)

Description

Halibut is big. Not just in popularity and nutritional value, but also in size. It is actually one of the largest of all saltwater fishes and can weigh up to 155 pounds. Halibut can be found both in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Atlantic species being of larger size.

Halibut is delicious. With a slightly sweet yet mild flavor, it is a lean fish that features finely textured, snow white flesh.

History

People have been enjoying halibut as a food ever since this beautiful fish appeared in the Earth’s waters, basically since time immemorial.

Halibut was considered a sacred fish throughout history and was oftentimes served on holidays, especially during medieval days in Europe. In fact, the English derivation for its name reflects the sacredness of this large flatfish since “hali” signifies holy, and “but” signifies flat.

Halibut, which is found in northern seawaters, is especially concentrated in the Pacific Ocean as well as the Atlantic coasts of Newfoundland and Greenland.

How to Select and Store

Just as with any seafood, it is best to purchase halibut from a store that has a good reputation for having a fresh supply of fish. Get to know a fishmonger (person who sells the fish) at the store, so you can have a trusted resource from whom you can purchase your fish.

Fresh whole halibut should be displayed buried in ice, while fillets should be placed on top of the ice. The flesh of the halibut fillets should glistening white with no signs of browning or gaping.

Smell is a good indicator of freshness: fresh halibut smells like seawater. Since a slightly “off” smell cannot be detected through plastic, if you have the option, purchase displayed fish as opposed to pieces that are prepackaged. Once the fishmonger wraps and hands you the fish that you have selected, smell it through the paper wrapping and return it if it has too strong a fishy, ammonia-like smell.

When storing all types of seafood, including halibut, it is important to keep it cold since fish is very sensitive to temperature. Therefore, after purchasing halibut or other fish, refrigerate it as soon as possible. If the fish is going to accompany you during a day full of errands, keep a cooler in the car where you can place the halibut to make sure it stays cold and does not spoil.

The temperature of most refrigerators is slightly warmer than ideal for storing fish. Therefore, to ensure maximum freshness and quality, it is important to use special storage methods to create the optimal temperature for holding the fish. One of the easiest ways to do this is to place halibut, which has been well wrapped, in a baking dish filled with ice. The baking dish and fish should then be placed on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, which is its coolest area. Replenish the ice one or two times per day.

The length of time that halibut can stay fresh stored this way depends upon how fresh it is, i.e. when it was caught. Fish that was caught the day before you purchased it can be stored for about four days while fish that was caught the week before can only be stored for about one or two days.

You can extend the shelf life of halibut by freezing it. To do so, wrap it well in plastic and place it in the coldest part of the freezer where it will keep for about two to three weeks.

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Tips for Preparing Halibut:

After you unwrap your fish, rinse it under cool running water, then pat dry before cooking.

After you unwrap your fish, rinse it under cool running water, then pat dry before cooking.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Make fish tacos by wrapping Healthy Sautéed onion, garlic, and halibut, tomatillo salsa, and guacamole in a corn tortilla.

Simmer halibut in a small amount of fish or vegetable broth with fresh herbs. Season to taste.

Serve broiled halibut over a bed of greens and top with your favorite dressing.

Skewer marinated chunks of halibut and your favorite vegetables and broil. Brush with garlic olive oil when done.

Safety

Government inspection is not mandated for seafood, so choose your fish purveyor carefully. Since halibut is a very large fish, it is usually marketed in steaks or fillets and more commonly sold frozen rather than fresh.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises that pregnant women and women of childbearing age who might become pregnant not eat certain fish, including shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. It is also recommended that nursing mothers and young children steer clear of these fish. Two groups, the Environmental Working Group and the U.S. Public Interest Group have asked the FDA to add Gulf coast oysters and eight more types of fish to the list, including tuna, sea bass, halibut, marlin, pike and white croaker. Their recommendations are based on a report on mercury contamination in fish. In addition, their report says canned tuna, mahi-mahi, cod and pollack should not be eaten more than once a month.

These two research groups said fish considered safe for pregnant women include farm-raised trout and catfish, shrimp, fish sticks, flounder (summer), wild pacific salmon, croaker, mid-Atlantic blue crab and haddock.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that amount represents; the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Not all of our Daily Value standards are obtained from the FDA. In most instances, we used FDA Daily Values when available because they are widely recognized and apply to both men and women. However, when unavailable, we've used other science-based research to establish nutritional standards. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. Read more about our Food and Recipe Rating System.

 

Halibut, Baked/Broiled
4.00 oz-wt
158.76 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
tryptophan 0.34 g 106.3 12.0 excellent
selenium 53.07 mcg 75.8 8.6 excellent
protein 30.27 g 60.5 6.9 very good
vitamin B3 (niacin) 8.08 mg 40.4 4.6 very good
phosphorus 323.19 mg 32.3 3.7 very good
magnesium 121.34 mg 30.3 3.4 very good
vitamin B12 (cobalamin) 1.55 mcg 25.8 2.9 good
omega 3 fatty acids 0.62 g 24.8 2.8 good
vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) 0.45 mg 22.5 2.6 good
potassium 653.18 mg 18.7 2.1 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

In Depth Nutritional Profile for Halibut

References

  • Bernard-Gallon DJ, Vissac-Sabatier C, Antoine-Vincent D et al. Differential effects of n-3 and n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids on BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene expression in breast cell lines. Br J Nutr 2002 Apr;87(4):281-9.
  • Bernstein JM. The role of IgE-mediated hypersensitivity in the development of otitis media with effusion: a review. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 1993 Sep;109(3 Pt 2):611-20.
  • Davies M, Ghosh A. Towards evidence based emergency medicine: best BETs from the Manchester Royal Infirmary. Prophylactic magnesium in myocardial infarction. Emerg Med J. 2001 Mar;18(2):119-20.
  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986.
  • Fernandez E, Chatenoud L, La Vecchia C, et al. Fish consumption and cancer risk. Am J Clin Nutr 1999 Jul;70(1):85-90.
  • Fritschi L, Ambrosini GL, Kliewer EV, Johnson KC; Canadian Cancer Registries Epidemiologic Research Group. Dietary fish intake and risk of leukaemia, multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2004 Apr;13(4):532-7.
  • He K, Song Y, Daviglus ML, Liu K, Van Horn L, Dyer AR, Goldbourt U, Greenland P. Fish consumption and incidence of stroke: a meta-analysis of cohort studies. Stroke. 2004 Jul;35(7):1538-42.
  • Iso H, Rexrode KM, Stampfer MJ, et al. Intake of fish and omega-3 fatty acids and risk of stroke in women. JAMA 2001; 285(3):304-12.
  • Kharb S, Singh V. Magnesium deficiency potentiates free radical production associated with myocardial infarction. J Assoc Physicians India. 2000 May;48(5):484-5.
  • Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, Scherr PA, Tangney CC, Hebert LE, Bennett DA, Wilson RS, Aggarwal N. Dietary niacin and the risk of incident Alzheimer's disease and of cognitive decline. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2004 Aug;75(8):1093-9.
  • Mozaffarian D, Psaty BM, Rimm EB, Lemaitre RN, Burke GL, Lyles MF, Lefkowitz D, Siscovick DS. Fish intake and risk of incident atrial fibrillation. Circulation. 2004 Jul 27;110(4):368-73.
  • Stoll BA. n-3 fatty acids and lipid peroxidation in breast cancer inhibition. Br J Nutr 2002 March;87(3):193-8.
  • Sueda S, Fukuda H, Watanabe K, et al. Magnesium deficiency in patients with recent myocardial infarction and provoked coronary artery spasm. Jpn Circ J. 2001 Jul;65(7):643-8.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988.

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