Clearly, fish have been, and continue to be, a culturally and nutritionally important source of low fat, high protein food for the Ojibwe. Science continues to confirm the benefits of regularly eating fish (1-2 meal per week). Research has shown that fish is a good source of high-quality protein, essential fatty acids, and minerals such as iron and zinc which are important in the diets of children. Pregnant mothers who regularly consumed fish were found to have longer gestational periods and heavier birth-weight babies, which has been associated with healthier children.
Also, omega-3, long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids found in several native species of Lake Superior fish are important in the development of the central nervous system(brain) and the retina (eye) of fetuses and young children.
A project entitled "Comparative Dietary Risks: Balancing the Risks and Benefits of Fish Consumption," funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and conducted by Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, reviewed 13 research projects that studied the relationship between fish consumption and reduced risk of death due to coronary heart disease (CHD).
Ten of the 13 studies found that consuming 1 to 2 meals of fish per week (fat or lean) reduced the risk of death due to coronary heart disease by 25 to 58% over those who ate little or no fish. These studies followed both men and women, both middle-aged and elders. The researchers concluded there was strong scientific evidence that consuming 1-2 meals of any fish a week reduces the risk of death due to coronary heart disease.
As explained by Dr. Paul Addis, UW-Minnesota, in his paper, “Omega-3 Fatty Acid Content in Lake Superior Fish,” and in several of the research papers previously referred to, fish species with greater amounts of omega-3 fatty acids diminished the risk of heart disease. One study found the more omega-3 fatty acids a person consumed (upper limit of study was 42 grams/month), the lower their risk of death due to coronary heart disease. Specifically, the study reported that an average intake of 5.5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per month reduced on average the risk of coronary heart disease by 50 percent.
Lake Superior fish have high amounts of omega 3 oils. One 8 ounce meal of siscowet trout per month, 2 meals of whitefish, 2 meals of lake trout, or 3 meals of lake herring each month would meet this requirement of 5.5 grams/month.
It is important to realize that eating fish is a learned behavior. If parents do not serve fish to their children, children are unlikely to eat fish as they become older. This can have long term impacts on the health of families and reservation communities. A modern day challenge for parents is to learn how to reduce risks from chemical contaminants while encouraging children to continue the tradition of eating fish.