Reelin' in the Years:
Live Long, Live Well with the Ocean's Healthiest Bounty
It’s a super food that’s been making waves for years … rich in heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids, lean protein and a raft of vitamins and minerals, the definition of wholesome eating lies at the bottom of the ocean. Without hyperbole, it can be said eating seafood may literally save your life. While recent studies seem to minimize the once-touted miracles of fish oil, experts say extracting one component of seafood is not the point.
“I have always believed that the highest and best use of any seafood product is as dinner, not as a reductionist nutritional supplement,” says chef-author Barton Seaver who now leads Harvard’s sustainable seafood initiative. “Why should we not get all the protein, and minerals and vitamins and flavor that goes with it? There’s overwhelming science that says increased consumption of seafood has profound implications on the healthfulness of the American diet.” Consider some of seafood’s greatest nutritional hits, at every end of the spectrum:
as Lean as it Gets
Compared to other animal proteins, fish has more (healthful) unsaturated fat and less (not so healthful) saturated fat. Seafood is a great source of lean protein, which supports muscles and bone growth, and contain vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D, calcium, iron and zinc, important for strong bones and immunity.
but Fatty too
Unlike fatty meats, fatty fish are associated with health, as they are one of the best sources of omega-3s, which have a raft of benefits from helping to reduce inflammation and lowering blood pressure to reducing the risk of stroke and heart disease, and helping children develop a healthy brain and eyes. Fatty fish with a firmer texture, richer flavor, and deeper color, include mackerel, lake trout, herring, tuna, sardines, sturgeon, anchovies and bluefish. Still the seafood rock star: salmon, packing in one of the highest amounts of omega-3s per serving, along with 100% of daily recommended vitamin D.
A Mediterranean diet that includes seafood at least twice a week reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular events, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. Following more than 22,000 physicians over 17 years, the study showed higher blood levels of long-chain omega–3 fatty acids resulted in an 80 to 90 percent risk reduction of sudden cardiac death compared to those with lower blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Another in-depth study by Harvard Drs. Mozaffarian and Rimm showed that eating approximately one to two 3 oz. servings of fatty fish a week—salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, or sardines—reduced the risk of dying from heart disease by 36 percent. An estimated 50,000 people already avoid stroke or heart disease each year, just by eating seafood as recommended.
and Brain Food
A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that people who regularly eat fish have more voluminous brains than those who do not. The impact was seen on the hippocampus, the big memory and learning center in the brain: it is up to 14 percent larger in frequent fish eaters.
Benefits for Young
Babies from moms who ate seafood twice weekly during pregnancy were observed to have a greater IQ by 5.8 points and improved brain and eye development. Other studies provide even more evidence that the omega-3 fatty acid DHA is critical for the development of the nervous system, and supports better outcomes for baby brain and eye health. Well past infancy, children who ate seafood supplemented with Omega- 3s had improved attention span and fewer adverse behavioral outcomes. The benefits of eating seafood outweigh the risks, according to the latest research, prompting this official recommendation for pregnant women concerned about ingesting mercury: avoid large fish like swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish during pregnancy. Safer choices that are low in mercury but high in omega-3s include salmon, anchovies, herring, sardines, trout, Atlantic and Pacific mackerel, Pollock, tilapia, cod and catfish.
Older Americans who eat seafood just once a week have improved memory and sharpness. Studies found that eating fish—baked or broiled, never fried—is associated with larger gray matter volumes in brain areas responsible for memory and cognition in healthy elderly people. Additional studies showed that older adults with the highest blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids lived, on average, 2.2 years longer.
Try These 12 species of American seafood, recommended as sustainable, nutritious and delicious by a partnership of industry leaders:
- Pacific Ocean Perch
- Snow Crab
- Longnose Skate
- Yellowtail Rockfish
- Chilipepper Rockfish
- Acadian Redfish
- Atlantic Pollock
- Red Snapper
- Red Grouper
BOTTOM LINE NUMBERS: 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating 8 oz. of seafood per week and 250 mg of omega-3 fatty acids EPA+DHA per day.
Sources: The Seafood Nutrition Partnership, Healthy Dining Finder, Mayo Clinic