Seafood Health Benefits
Healthy Habits for Healthy Living
Enjoy the Bounty of the Sea
Raise your hand if you love fish but only eat it when you go out. If that’s you, you’re not alone. Many of us know about the healthy benefits of consuming fish but because of various reasons, from not knowing how to choose or cook fish to concerns of mercury content, or not knowing if fresh or frozen is best to questions about fishing practices, we aren’t meeting the recommended dietary guidelines of eating 8 ounces of seafood each week. This month’s article is intended to help answer some of your questions and encourage you to incorporate more fish and shellfish into your eating plan.
Seafood, which includes all fish and shellfish, contributes a range of nutrients. It is an excellent source of protein, is low in saturated fat and calories, and contains no trans fats. But it is the content of the omega -3 fatty acids, specifically eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) that has attracted most of the attention. Based on scientific evidence, consumption of 8 ounces of seafood each week, can help boost immunity and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and other ailments. These heart healthy fats are found in varieties such as trout, sardines, tuna and salmon.
Selection-Fresh vs. frozen
Most of the seafood sold in stores has been frozen. “Fresh” may sound like it would be better but seafood can be as much as 9 days old and still be considered “fresh”. Many fish and shellfish are flash-frozen a few hours or even minutes after the catch or harvest and shipped frozen. Flash-freezing takes less than a minute and preserves the texture and flavor. When you buy fresh seafood, be sure you’re getting a truly fresh product. Know when the seller received the fish or shellfish and where and when it was caught. Look at and smell the product. Quality fish and shellfish should smell like the sea; it should not smell fishy.
No matter what type of seafood you buy, the keys to great flavor and texture are to use an appropriate cooking method and to not overcook. Seafood can be baked, broiled, grilled, poached, sautéed or pan fried, or steamed. Minutes count when cooking fish. Cooked perfectly, it will be moist and tender. Fish is done when it loses its raw appearance and flakes easily with a fork. Follow the 10-minute rule for all cooking methods except microwaving: Cook fish for 10 minutes per inch of thickness, measured at its thickest part. Tuck under any thick edges when baking or broiling.
What is methyl mercury and how does it accumulate in fish?
Although mercury occurs naturally in the environment, the primary source of methyl mercury in fish is industrial pollution. Mercury can accumulate in streams, oceans, rivers, and lakes where, aided by bacteria, it undergoes a chemical transformation into methyl mercury, which can be toxic. As fish feed on aquatic organisms and small fish, they accumulate methyl mercury. The larger, longer living fish feed on other fish throughout their lives, thereby accumulating the highest levels of methyl mercury.
Eating a variety of seafood, as opposed to just a few choices is one way to reduce the amount of mercury consumed from any one seafood type. Seafood varieties that are commonly consumed in the United States that are high in omega 3’s and low in mercury include salmon, anchovies, herring, sardines, Pacific oysters, trout, and Atlantic and Pacific mackerel (not king mackerel, which is high in mercury). Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should always consult their physician regarding seafood consumption but as a general rule, tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel are not recommended due to higher levels of mercury found in these varieties.
What is sustainable seafood?
Quite simply, it is seafood that is managed and fished using practices that do not harm the fish, other marine plants and animals or the environment, and ensures that fish populations are never overfished.
Aquaculture, or farming of fish and other seafood, holds great promise as a solution to the ever-increasing pressures on our ocean resources. While it may seem that there are plenty of fish in the sea, it’s a different story just below the surface. Overfishing, lack of effective management and our own consumption habits are just a few factors contributing to a decline in wild fish.
Today, half of the seafood eaten in the U.S. is farmed, and the practice is growing fast. Just as we raise cattle and chickens to eat, we’re now raising seafood to meet the growing global demand. It is estimated that the world will need an additional 37 million tons of farmed fish per year to maintain current levels of consumption.
But the environmental impact of fish farming varies widely, depending on the species being farmed, the methods used and where the farm is located. When the environment is considered and good practices are used, it’s possible to create sustainably farmed seafood. Such operations limit habitat damage, disease, escapes of non-native fish, and the use of wild fish as feed. State, federal and international organizations all work together to manage and oversee the major fisheries by setting policies and enforcing laws.
Marsh fully supports both the farmed seafood industries as well as the wild seafood industry. In fact, Marsh works closely with the State of Alaska government to promote the species that are indigenous to their state and offered to our customers. Marsh is proud to sell the five Pacific/Alaskan salmon species, Alaskan Cod, Alaskan Pollock and Alaskan Halibut. We are also very proud of our affiliations with the world’s best seafood farms and ties with the U.S. Gulf Shrimp industry.
Between Marsh’s Seafood Marketplace and Pier 48 seafood section found in select stores, Marsh carries many canned, pouched and packaged seafood options. There are countless ways to enjoy the bounty of the sea.
For those of you who have specific nutrition related questions, feel free to contact me at AskMarshDietitian@marsh.net.
|___||Mary Snell, MS RD CD
Director of Nutrition and Wellness