Monday, 30th October 2017

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Hilsa aces nutrient test

Scientists have generated India's first database that describes the nutritional composition of about 100 edible fish species through a 10-year-old research effort they say has endorsed the supremacy of the hilsa.

By G.S. Mudur
  • Published 30.04.18
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Hilsa. Image: Shutterstock

New Delhi: Scientists have generated India's first database that describes the nutritional composition of about 100 edible fish species through a 10-year-old research effort they say has endorsed the supremacy of the hilsa.

The database, NutriFishIn, documents the nutritional profiles of freshwater, coldwater, brackish-water and marine fish from across the country under a project supported by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research.

Scientists at the ICAR-Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute, Barrackpore, who collaborated with institutions in Bhimtal, Bhubaneswar, Kochi and Mumbai, say their analysis has vindicated the significance of the traditional rice-and-fish dish in combating malnutrition.

Their database has quantified the amounts of proteins, omega-3 fatty acids and micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals in fish species.

"The hilsa, or ilish maachh, is among the best for omega-3 fatty acids, followed by sardines and the koi," said Bimal Prasanna Mohanty, principal scientist at the Barrackpore institute and the national coordinator for the project.

Several studies had suggested that eating fatty fish twice a week helps reduce the risk of heart disease. The analysis leading to the NutriFishIn database has shown that the levels of health-friendly polyunsaturated fatty acids -- docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid -- vary across species.

Unsaturated fatty acids make up about 57 per cent of the total fat in the hilsa (Tenualosa ilisha). As the fat content of the muscle is much higher in the hilsa than in other species, this fish can also contribute significantly to meeting the average daily requirement of unsaturated fatty acids, the scientists said in the journal Food Chemistry.

Among the fish sampled, the yellowfin tuna was found to contain the highest concentration of protein (23.9g protein per 100g), while Bombay Duck contained the least (8.2g per 100g).

Among commonly consumed fish, the bhetki (Lates calcarifer), the karimeen (Etroplus suratensis) and the hilsa contain over 20 per cent protein.

The major carps - the rohu (Labeo rohita), the mrigal (Cirrhinus mrigala) and the catla (Catla catla) -- contain 15 to 16 per cent protein.

Mohanty said the database also shows that the small indigenous fish found widely across the country's freshwater resources are rich in minerals and vitamins and "may help combat micronutrient deficiencies".

Three of these fish -- the puti (Amblypharyngodon mola), the mourala (Puntius sophore) and the dadhika (Esomus danricus) -- are particularly rich in vitamins A, D, E and K, the studies have shown.

The Barrackpore institute is now focusing on the small indigenous fish, which the scientists believe need to be promoted as alternative sources of protein, calories and micronutrients.

These fish are eaten whole with their bones and head and are therefore likely to contribute minerals in higher concentrations than larger fish, Mohanty and his colleagues have said in their paper.

The database is intended for use by consumers, dieticians, physicians and food policy planners. It has drawn the attention of the World Bank, which has invited the Barrackpore institute to join an international collaborative initiative, called NutriFish1000, that seeks to promote nutrition through the consumption of fish.

A senior World Bank official described the database as "an excellent and visionary" research-and-development platform that could be exposed to governments across the world to advance global food security.