Surprising Facts & Health Benefits About Fish
What’s Your School of Thought on Seafood?
In the past decade, an extreme focus has been placed on the American diet. As a result, experts have placed an emphasis on the types of foods people must limit to attain a healthier lifestyle. Unfortunately, the problem of the American diet is twofold: many people eat diets too high in saturated fats and processed foods, but too low in key nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. When searching for easy solutions, one has to look no further than the sea, as fish and other marine life are natural sources of the nutrients Americans need the most.
Women are well known to be the gatekeeper’s of their family’s nutrition choices. Jennifer McGuire, registered dietitian with The National Fisheries Institute, points out, “The foods women bring into the home not only impact themselves, but their families – from pregnancy through raising her children, a woman should feel empowered that she can help shape the health of her whole family.” Seafood is increasingly becoming a top food group that adults and children should all eat “more of.”
In fact, local and global groups such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and World Health Organization recommend that governments emphasize not only the benefits of eating fish for heart health in adults and brain development in babies, but the risks of avoiding fish for these groups.
Five Facts About Fish That Might Surprise You!
According to McGuire, “moms want to wade through the fish fiction and get the hard facts.”
1. You Cannot Eat “Too Much” Seafood
”For the general population there are no types of commercial or store-bought seafood to limit or avoid,” says McGuire. According to the FDA, the dietary goal is to eat a variety of seafood 2-3 times a week, and is rarely met. On average, American women eat less than three ounces of seafood a week, compared to the recommended 8-12 ounces. McGuire continues, “Most women should not only double, but should triple or quadruple the amount of fish they eat to meet the recommendation.”
2. Dietary Supplements Only Provide Partial Health Benefits
According to the McGuire, fish oil supplements are not an equal substitute to eating fish as a whole food. “A variety of seafood will give your body omega-3s, lean protein, vitamins including B and D, iron, calcium, and more” says McGuire, “whereas a fish-oil pill stops at omega-3s.” Supplements are not a complete trade-off. Oily fish like tuna, salmon, mackerel and sardines are some of the top omega-3 sources.
3. Developing Babies Need Nutrients Found in Fish
The 2004 FDA recommendation for pregnant women and nursing mothers states, “Fish and shellfish contain high-quality protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids. A well balanced diet that includes a variety of fish can contribute to heart health and children’s proper growth and development. So, women and young children in particular should include fish or shellfish in their diets due to the many nutritional benefits…” There are just four rarely eaten fish this target audience should avoid as they aim for 2-3 seafood meals a week: shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.
4. Marine Foods Are the Only Naturally Rich Food Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The type of omega-3s linked to heart and brain health (DHA and EPA) are only found in marine foods like fish. McGuire notes, “The omega-3s in plant foods like walnuts, canola oil and flaxseed are healthful, but less powerful than the type in seafood. The body has a hard time converting plant-based omega-3s to DHA and EPA, so there isn’t really a substitute for seafood.”
5. Canned Seafood Counts
Fish in all forms, as long as it is prepared in a healthy way, counts toward the 2-3 servings per week goal. “I eat a lot of canned and pouch tuna, salmon, and sardines along with frozen and fresh fish,” says McGuire.
According to McGuire, there is no better time to include seafood in your diet than now. “As women learn more about the health risks of a traditional low-seafood, high meat American diet, they are looking for healthy proteins to prepare. Fish, from fresh filets to convenient canned tuna, is making a making a real resurgence as a smart-eating staple.”
About Jennifer McGuire, MS, RD
Jennifer McGuire, a registered dietitian, seafood expert and passionate foodie, is Manager of Nutrition Communication at the National Fisheries Institute (NFI). In her role, Jennifer McGuire enjoys writing, talking and educating about seafood. Prior to joining NFI, McGuire worked on the Nutrition Communication Team at PMK Public Relations in Alexandria, VA, and the Weight Management Team at The Cooper Institute in Dallas. She has contributed nutrition articles to the 5-A-Day Program as well as Balance, the Tufts Daily nutrition section. McGuire earned her undergraduate degree in Communication from Southwestern University and her Master’s of Science (MS) in Nutrition Communication from Boston’s Tufts University. She is a registered dietitian (RD) and member of the American Dietetic Association.
About The National Fisheries Institute’s Tuna Council
The National Fisheries Institute's (NFI) Tuna Council, previously known as the U.S. Tuna Foundation, is dedicated to educating American families about canned tuna safety, sustainability and nutrition. Visit www.healthytuna.com for additional information.