May 17, 2023
If you’re looking for simple ways to improve your diet, you may want to consider eating more seafood.
Here’s a guide explaining why and how you can do that.
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans says a healthy diet includes six core elements — vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, protein foods, and oils.
Most Americans eat the recommended amount of protein foods overall. But almost 90 percent don’t eat the recommended amount of foods in the seafood subgroup. Seafood includes fish; crustaceans (crabs, lobsters, shrimp, and squid); mollusks (clams, scallops and oysters); and echinoderms (sea urchins).
If you don’t eat enough seafood, you can correct that pretty easily. The guidelines say that adults between the ages of 19 and 59, with daily diet of 2,000 calories, should eat eight ounces of seafood a week. That’s a little more than two servings, according to the National Library of Medicine, which says a serving of seafood is 3.5 ounces.
One of the most important reasons to eat seafood is that it’s a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Unlike most of the other fats your body needs, it can’t make omega-3s, so it has to get them from food.
Many types of seafood contain omega-3s, but fatty fish contain the most. Fish rich in omega-3s include mackerel, salmon, herring, anchovies, whitefish, and tuna. Other sources of omega-3s besides fish include vegetable oils; nuts (especially walnuts); flaxseed and flaxseed oil; and leafy vegetables.
Omega-3s help your cells function properly. The cells in your eyes and brain contain high levels of omega-3s.
Omega-3s also give you energy and support the health of many of your body’s systems, especially your cardiovascular system.
One way they do that is by helping to lower your triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are a fat that circulates in your blood. Having high levels of them increases your risk for atherosclerosis, a progressive disease caused by plaque building up in the arteries.
Omega-3s also may help you increase your HDL, which is the good type of cholesterol, and lower your blood pressure.
In addition to helping your circulatory system, omega-3s may lower your risk of developing breast and other cancers; Alzheimer’s disease and dementia; and a vision-threatening condition called age-related macular degeneration.
Besides omega-3s, seafood contains many vitamins and minerals that Americans typically don’t get enough of, including vitamins B12 and B6, selenium, iron, and zinc.
All seafood contains selenium, along with iodine and phosphorous. Oysters and crustaceans contain zinc; oysters, bluefish, and shrimp contain iron; oysters, crabs, and lobsters contain copper; and mussels, scallops, and clams contain potassium. Additionally, the soft bones of small fish, such as sardines and smelts, are a good source of calcium.
Seafood is not without potential health risks. Some are due to how it’s prepared.
For example, frying fish, like frying all food, creates harmful compounds. As a result, eating fried fish frequently may increase your risk of certain cancers and heart disease. Eating salted and smoked fish also can lead to increased disease risk.
Seafood’s biggest health risks, however, stem from the waters it lives in. Fresh and salt water can contain a heavy metal called mercury. As a result, fish often contain more mercury than you should eat.
Children and people who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breastfeeding, should be particularly careful about consuming more than the recommended minimum levels of mercury. That means they generally shouldn’t eat more than six ounces of albacore tuna and tuna steaks a week. They should also avoid swordfish, king mackerel, shark, and tilefish.
Seafood with low mercury concentrations includes shrimp, anchovies, sardines, herring, freshwater trout, salmon, Pacific mackerel, pollock, tilapia, and catfish.
Other contaminants in fish can include bacteria and viruses. To avoid these, pregnant people shouldn’t eat uncooked fish or shellfish. They also should pay attention to advisories on fish caught from local waters, such as this one from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Eating more seafood is an easy way to improve your diet. There’s such a wide variety of it that you should be able to find something you like. Just make sure that your choices don’t expose you to more mercury or other contaminants than you should eat.