All posts by NFI Nutrition

Seafood During Pregnancy

How much seafood should you eat during pregnancy?

Eat at least 2-3 servings of seafood per week to boost babies’ brain development.

Choosing the right foods during pregnancy can make a big difference in your baby’s health and growth. Eating seafood while pregnant is an essential part of a healthy diet for you and your unborn child or breastfed baby. The recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend pregnant and breastfeeding women eat at least 2 to 3 servings of seafood per week to improve babies’ eye and brain development.

Seafood is one of the only foods bursting with a type of healthy fat called omega-3 DHA. America’s favorite types of seafood all meet the FDA’s strict safety guidelines.

To get the recommended amounts and the health benefits, eat a variety of seafood. Visit Eating Seafood While Pregnant – our online guide that includes the top fish to eat and fish to avoid while pregnant.

Pregnancy Diet: Eating Seafood for Two

You only need about 300 extra calories a day during your pregnancy. So when you get a craving, satisfy it with a nutrient-rich food. The Mediterranean Diet is full of sweet foods like fruit, creamy foods like yogurt, and savory foods like fish to help satisfy your cravings during pregnancy.

Eating Mediterranean Style

Your pregnancy weight is important—too little weight gain can keep your baby from getting all the nutrients he or she needs to grow; too much weight gain may increase your chance of getting gestational diabetes (diabetes that starts during pregnancy). But rather than obsess over the scale just remember to eat simply, drink lots of water and stay active.

What About Eating Fish During Pregnancy?

Eating fish while pregnant is healthy and essential to your pregnancy diet. The amount of fish experts recommend pregnant women eat is at least 12 ounces = About 2–3 servings a week.

There are only four fish to avoid during pregnancy and breastfeeding; shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. Most women in the U.S. already do not eat these types of seafood. If you are not pregnant or breastfeeding, there are no types of commercial seafood to avoid.

Learn more about eating fish and pregnancy: what to eat and what not to eat.

Seafood and Pregnancy Resources:

Benefits of Eating Fish

Nutritional Benefits of Eating Fish

Fish provides a variety of health benefits through providing vital nutrients like Omega-3s, which the body does not create on its own, and serving as an ideal source of lean protein, high in protein and low in calories and saturated fat.

The good news is that there are quick and easy ways, like canned or pouched tuna, to get more seafood in your diet. Explore the nutritional benefits below and get great seafood recipes here.


 

Omega-3s

What are they?

Omega-3s in seafood are a powerful nutrient—they help protect the heart, brain and eyes in babies and adults. The most powerful omega-3s available are found in seafood. Just 2-3 servings a week is all you need.

Omega-3s are a healthy type of fat. There are two main categories of omega-3s:

  • Seafood contains mostly eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These are called long-chain omega-3s and have powerful heart and brain benefits.
  • Plants and nuts contain mostly alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) omega-3s. These are also called short-chain omega-3s. While ALA omega-3s are healthful, they are not offer the same powerful heart and brain benefits as EPA and DHA.

Your body cannot make omega-3s on its own and it doesn’t do a good job turning ALA into EPA and DHA. In fact, a deficiency in omega-3s can be harmful. Research shows that a diet low in omega-3s contributes to 84,000 preventable deaths per year.i So it is important to eat seafood, to get plenty EPA and DHA omega-3s.

What are the health benefits?

Studies have shown that omega-3s, which are found in abundance in fish like tuna, help to keep brains and hearts healthy throughout a person’s life – and are even important before you’re born!

Children:
Help little ones’ brain and eyes develop, especially during the third trimester. During pregnancy, all of the DHA gathered by the growing baby must come from the mother’s diet.
New Moms:
Boost your mood. Plenty of DHA can help prevent or manage depression during and after pregnancy ii
Adults:
Help your heart stay strong. DHA and EPA boost heart health by decreasing blood triglyceride levels, slowing the buildup of plaques that contribute to the “hardening of the arteries,” lowering blood pressure slightly and reducing the risk of abnormal heart rhythms that can lead to sudden death. iii
Boomers+:
Stay strong and healthy. Omega-3s can be beneficial for your heart, brain and joints.

 

Protein and Calories

What are Protein and Calories?

Protein is an important part of every cell in the human body and makes up a large part of your skin, hair, nails, muscles, organs and glands. It builds, maintains and replaces the tissues in your body. Enzymes, hormones and blood all contain protein too.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), calories are a tool for measuring the amount of energy a food or beverage contains, which fuels your body. iv

Why do We Need Them?

In fewer than 200 calories, seafood, such as tuna in water, packs a protein punch with about 20 grams per serving.

Your body needs protein from food to repair cells and make new ones. It’s a necessary part of your diet in all stages of your life, but especially during those when you tend to grow a lot – like childhood and adolescence. You may also need a little extra protein during injury and sickness. Women require more protein during pregnancy. Besides seafood, other common protein-rich foods include meat, beans and dairy.

Whether at work, play or even when you’re resting, your body also needs energy from calories. However, consuming too many calories can cause you to gain weight, so it’s important to choose foods that provide enough nutrients without too many calories.

The amount of protein and calories you need depends on your age and health.

New Moms and Babies:

Women who are at a healthy weight before getting pregnant should expect to gain 25 to 35 pounds as they carry their baby. Eating nutrient-rich foods that are low in calories, like seafood, can help mom and baby get essential protein and contribute to healthy weight gain.

Children:
Protein helps the body repair and make new cells. This is especially important during childhood and adolescence, when a child is growing a lot. Seafood is a low-calorie, high-protein food that can help meet a growing child’s needs.
Adults:
Generally, most adults need 2 to 3 servings of protein rich food each day to meet their needs. One serving is about 3 to 4 ounces of seafood, meat or poultry.
Boomers+:
Protein can help maintain strong bones and organ health. As we age, it is important to eat a diet rich in low-calorie, high-protein foods such as seafood.

i Danaei, G., Mozaffarian, D., Taylor, B., Rehm, J., et al. (2009). The Preventable Causes of Death in the United States: Comparative Risk Assessment of Dietary, Lifestyle, and Metabolic Risk Factors. PLoS Med 6(4).

ii Harrison, L. (2001, November 1). Psychology Today. Eating fish during pregnancy and lactation may benefit mother and child. Available at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200111/eating-fish-during-pregnancy-and-lactation-may-benefit-mother-and-child. Accessed March 5, 2012.

iii Horn, L. V., PhD, RD., McCoin, M., MPH, RD., Kris-Etherton, P. M., PhD, RD., Burke, F., MS, RD.,Carson, J. A. S., PhD, RD., Champagne, C. M., PhD, RD., Sikand, G., MA, RD. (2008, February). The Evidence for Dietary Prevention and Treatment of Cardiovascular Disease. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 108(2).

iv United States Department of Agriculture. Weight Management & Calories. Available at: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/weight-management-calories/calories.html. Accessed February 22, 2012.

Benefits of Eating Fish and Seafood Based on Age

How Does Seafood Benefit You?

 

Seafood Nutritional Benefits

Eating seafood 2 to 3 times per week has scientifically-proven health benefits

The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that everyone, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, should increase the amount of seafood they eat to 2 to 3 servings each week for heart and brain health benefits. At a time when people are told to limit many foods, seafood is among the handful of “winning” foods that Americans are encouraged to eat more of for their health.

But, Americans aren’t eating enough seafood!

It is estimated that the average American eats about one serving of seafood a week – that means most people need to (at least) double the amount of fish and shellfish they eat to meet the recommended 2 to 3 servings. Additionally, consumer survey data shows 91 percent of parents with children 12 years and younger say their children aren’t eating seafood twice a week.i

Evidence suggests the average consumer may not perceive themselves at-risk for health conditions stemming from an omega-3 deficiency and, therefore, are not making necessary changes to their diet. In addition, many Americans are misinformed about the safety of eating various types of fish and express a lack confidence in selecting or preparing seafood.ii

 

Nutritional Benefits

Omega-3s

What are they?

Omega-3s in seafood are a powerful nutrient—they help protect the heart, brain and eyes in babies and adults. The most powerful omega-3s available are found in seafood. Just 2-3 servings a week is all you need.

Omega-3s are a healthy type of fat. There are two main categories of omega-3s:

  • Seafood contains mostly eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These are called long-chain omega-3s and have powerful heart and brain benefits.
  • Plants and nuts contain mostly alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) omega-3s. These are also called short-chain omega-3s. While ALA omega-3s are healthful, they are not offer the same powerful heart and brain benefits as EPA and DHA.

Your body cannot make omega-3s on its own and it doesn’t do a good job turning ALA into EPA and DHA. In fact, a deficiency in omega-3s can be harmful. Research shows that a diet low in omega-3s contributes to 84,000 preventable deaths per year.i So it is important to eat seafood, to get plenty EPA and DHA omega-3s.

What are the health benefits?

Studies have shown that omega-3s, which are found in abundance in fish like tuna, help to keep brains and hearts healthy throughout a person’s life – and are even important before you’re born!

Children:
Help little ones’ brain and eyes develop, especially during the third trimester. During pregnancy, all of the DHA gathered by the growing baby must come from the mother’s diet.
New Moms:
Boost your mood. Plenty of DHA can help prevent or manage depression during and after pregnancy ii
Adults:
Help your heart stay strong. DHA and EPA boost heart health by decreasing blood triglyceride levels, slowing the buildup of plaques that contribute to the “hardening of the arteries,” lowering blood pressure slightly and reducing the risk of abnormal heart rhythms that can lead to sudden death. iii
Boomers+:
Stay strong and healthy. Omega-3s can be beneficial for your heart, brain and joints.

 

Protein and Calories

What are Protein and Calories?

Protein is an important part of every cell in the human body and makes up a large part of your skin, hair, nails, muscles, organs and glands. It builds, maintains and replaces the tissues in your body. Enzymes, hormones and blood all contain protein too.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), calories are a tool for measuring the amount of energy a food or beverage contains, which fuels your body. iv

Why do We Need Them?

In fewer than 200 calories, seafood, such as tuna in water, packs a protein punch with about 20 grams per serving.

Your body needs protein from food to repair cells and make new ones. It’s a necessary part of your diet in all stages of your life, but especially during those when you tend to grow a lot – like childhood and adolescence. You may also need a little extra protein during injury and sickness. Women require more protein during pregnancy. Besides seafood, other common protein-rich foods include meat, beans and dairy.

Whether at work, play or even when you’re resting, your body also needs energy from calories. However, consuming too many calories can cause you to gain weight, so it’s important to choose foods that provide enough nutrients without too many calories.

The amount of protein and calories you need depends on your age and health.

New Moms and Babies:

Women who are at a healthy weight before getting pregnant should expect to gain 25 to 35 pounds as they carry their baby. Eating nutrient-rich foods that are low in calories, like seafood, can help mom and baby get essential protein and contribute to healthy weight gain.

Children:
Protein helps the body repair and make new cells. This is especially important during childhood and adolescence, when a child is growing a lot. Seafood is a low-calorie, high-protein food that can help meet a growing child’s needs.
Adults:
Generally, most adults need 2 to 3 servings of protein rich food each day to meet their needs. One serving is about 3 to 4 ounces of seafood, meat or poultry.
Boomers+:
Protein can help maintain strong bones and organ health. As we age, it is important to eat a diet rich in low-calorie, high-protein foods such as seafood.

i Danaei, G., Mozaffarian, D., Taylor, B., Rehm, J., et al. (2009). The Preventable Causes of Death in the United States: Comparative Risk Assessment of Dietary, Lifestyle, and Metabolic Risk Factors. PLoS Med 6(4).

ii Harrison, L. (2001, November 1). Psychology Today. Eating fish during pregnancy and lactation may benefit mother and child. Available at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200111/eating-fish-during-pregnancy-and-lactation-may-benefit-mother-and-child. Accessed March 5, 2012.

iii Horn, L. V., PhD, RD., McCoin, M., MPH, RD., Kris-Etherton, P. M., PhD, RD., Burke, F., MS, RD.,Carson, J. A. S., PhD, RD., Champagne, C. M., PhD, RD., Sikand, G., MA, RD. (2008, February). The Evidence for Dietary Prevention and Treatment of Cardiovascular Disease. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 108(2).

iv United States Department of Agriculture. Weight Management & Calories. Available at: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/weight-management-calories/calories.html. Accessed February 22, 2012.

Seafood Benefits for Older Adults

What Can Seafood Do For You?

Staying healthy as you age is important. There are nutrients you need in order to keep yourself in the best possible health. Eating protective foods that contain beneficial omega-3s, like seafood, can help you from head to toe.


Seafood Benefits for Boomers+

  • Improves Heart Health
  • Protects Eyesight
  • Maintains Bone and Joint Health

Improve Your Heart Health

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in men and women in the U.S., with risk factors including age (starting at 55), diabetes, high blood cholesterol and being overweight. While you can’t control your age, the good news is that you do have the power to help manage some of the other risk factors. Studies show you can help control dietary risk factors and protect your heart by eating more fish, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Deficiencies in omega-3s are known to increase the risk of heart disease such as heart attack or stroke. Start taking control of your heart health at your next meal – it can be as easy as adding a can of tuna to your salad!

Fight Alzheimer’s Disease

The nutrients found in seafood are important to your brain health. Studies have suggested that seafood nutrients, such as omega-3s, may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline.ii The Alzheimer’s Association recommends that people should eat more fish high in omega-3s, such as tuna.

Protect Your Sight

Seafood may also help reduce the risk of chronic eye conditions, including macular degeneration. The American Optometric Associations says that eating omega-3s from sources like tuna or salmon is “linked to healthy eyes and may reduce risk of some chronic eye conditions.”iii

Maintain Your Joint Health

Nutrients found in seafood may help to relieve symptoms such as inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis. The Arthritis Association reports, “adding about two 3-ounce servings of seafood to your menu each week is a good way to increase your levels of omega-3s and help decrease the body’s inflammatory reaction.”iv

Keep Your Bones Strong

Eating the recommended amount of seafood may help protect against bone loss. One study suggests that the combination of nutrients found in seafood – particularly the omega-3s, DHA and EPA – can help you maintain your bone density.v This is particularly important for those concerned about osteoporosis. So take control of your heart health – it’s as easy as eating 2 or 3 seafood meals each week!

Did You Know?
Women are particularly at risk for heart disease, with more women dying of heart disease than men each year. In fact, more than 200,000 women die from heart attacks every year—five times the number of women who die from breast cancer.iii

Healthy Suggestions

Did you know that taking a fish oil supplement is not the same as eating fish? While supplements provide omega-3s, they do not provide the other healthy nutrients found in fish. To get the most health benefits, eat seafood, such as canned or pouch tuna, at least 2 times per week.

Find easy recipes here.


iLloyd-Jones D, Adams R, Brown T,. et al. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2010 Update: A Report from the American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcomittee. Circulation. 2010; 121:e1-e170

ii Alzheimer’s Association. Adopt a Brain-Healthy Diet. Available at: http://www.alz.org/we_can_help_adopt_a_brain_healthy_diet.asp. Accessed March 5, 2012.

iii American Optometric Association. Nutrients for Eye Health. Available at: http://www.aoa.org/documents/Nutrients-for-Eye-Health-Patient-Handout.pdf. Accessed March 5, 2012.

iv Arthritis Today. Fish May Reduce Inflammation. Available at: http://www.arthritistoday.org/nutrition-and-weight-loss/healthy-eating/food-and-inflammation/fish-inflammation.php. Accessed March 5, 2012.

v Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 May;93(5):1142-51. Epub 2011 Mar 2. Protective effects of fish intake and interactive effects of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid intakes on hip bone mineral density in older adults: the Framingham Osteoporosis Study.

Seafood Benefits for Children

Seafood Sets Kids Up for a Lifetime of Health

Seafood is a great source of protein, which helps the body repair and make new cells. This is especially important during childhood and adolescence, when a child is growing a lot. Protein also helps a child’s body produce antibodies that help battle infections. Children would be much more susceptible to serious diseases without essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein).i

Seafood Benefits for Children

  • Promotes Healthy Eating Habits
  • Provides Essential Nutrients for Growth

When Do I Start Feeding My Child Fish?

Pediatricians recommend introducing solid foods, including seafood, into a child’s diet around 4-6 months. While some may suggest certain parents wait until after the first year of life to give fish, eggs, peanuts and other common allergens to a child, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that there is no need to delay the introduction of these foods past 4-6 months. The AAP suggests giving your baby one new food at a time, and waiting a few days to watch for any allergic reactions before introducing another.ii

Only 10% of Children in the U.S. Eat Enough Seafood

The World Health Organization states that healthy eating habits, including fish early on, help create good habits later in life. The Dietary Guidelines say children should eat two servings of seafood each week in age-appropriate portions to match their calorie needs.

To get your kids to go fish, try these easy tips:

  1. Make-over Mom and Dad’s Mealtime Mind-set
    • Teach your kids to look forward to eating, to anticipate with pleasure the meal to come. Tell them how much they are going to love their food, as opposed to asking questions like “do you like that?”
  2. Make one Meal
    • For lunches and dinners, make one tasty meal for everyone to eat. This saves time and money while ensuring kids get the same flavorful, wholesome meal as adults.
  3. Entice Tots’ Taste Buds
    • Use new spices and ingredients to help develop your child’s palate. Working new flavors in to a familiar food – like capers in to canned tuna – is a good way to introduce an exciting taste.

Get tasty, quick seafood recipes the whole family will love here.

Healthy Suggestions

Think beyond lunch and dinner to meet the goal of seafood twice a week. Whip up a bowl of tuna salad as a dip with whole-grain crackers for an afterschool snack, for example.


i American Academy of Pediatrics. Making Healthy Food Choices. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/gradeschool/nutrition/pages/Making-Healthy-Food-Choices.aspx. Accessed February 24, 2012.
ii American Academy of Pediatrics. Switching To Solid Foods. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/feeding-nutrition/Pages/Switching-To-Solid-Foods.aspx. Accessed February 24, 2012.

Seafood Benefits for Adults

Eat Seafood to Improve Your Health

Brain Health

Fight Depression and Accelerated Brain Aging

The omega-3s found in seafood are a key component of a brain-healthy diet. Studies have shown that people who don’t have enough omega-3s are more likely to develop depression. And, for those who have depression, studies have shown that the omega-3s, which are found in seafood, can improve the symptoms.iv

Additionally, researchers recently looked at late middle aged adults without dementia to see how the levels of omega-3s in their blood are related to signs of future dementia.  Adults with the lowest amount of the fish-based omega-3, DHA, in their blood had smaller brain volumes and poorer performance in tests of visual memory; abstract thinking; and planning, organization, and carrying out of tasks than adults with higher DHA levels. The smaller brain volume from low omega-3 levels speeds up brain aging by about two years. So take control of your heart health – it’s as easy as eating 2 or 3 seafood meals each week!

Heart Health

Eating seafood also improves heart health and reduces risk for heart disease. Learn more  about seafood and heart health.

Seafood During Pregnancy Benefits

Healthy Choices for Mom & Baby

Eat At Least 2 Servings of Seafood per Week to Boost Babies’ Brain Development

Choosing the right foods during pregnancy can make a big difference in your baby’s health and growth. Seafood is an essential part of a healthy diet for you and your unborn child or breastfed baby. The recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend pregnant and breastfeeding women eat 2 to 3 servings of seafood per week to improve babies’ eye and brain development. It is so important that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest pregnant and breastfeeding women should eat no less than 8 ounces (2 servings) of seafood each week.

To get the recommended amounts and the health benefits, eat a variety of seafood, which can include all types of tuna – white (albacore) and light canned tuna. Pregnant women can eat up to 6 ounces of white (albacore) tuna per week.

There are only four fish to avoid during pregnancy and breastfeeding; shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish.  Most women in the U.S. already do not eat these types of seafood. If you are not pregnant or breastfeeding, there are no types of commercial seafood to avoid.

Healthy Suggestions

Besides providing healthy omega-3s, another important nutrient provided by seafood is protein. However, all protein sources aren’t alike. Many high protein foods also happen to have a lot of unhealthy saturated fat and cholesterol. So when choosing which foods to eat, consider a low-calorie option such as tuna. One serving of protein-rich canned or pouch tuna is lower in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol than an equal serving of beef, pork, chicken or lamb.


iDanaei, Goodarz, et al. “The Preventable Causes of Death in the united states: Comparative risk Assessment of Dietary, Lifestyle, and metabolic risk factors.” Plos medicine 6 (2009).

ii Horn, L. V., PhD, RD., McCoin, M., MPH, RD., Kris-Etherton, P. M., PhD, RD., Burke, F., MS, RD.,Carson, J. A. S., PhD, RD., Champagne, C. M., PhD, RD., Sikand, G., MA, RD. (2008, February). The Evidence for Dietary Prevention and Treatment of Cardiovascular Disease. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 108(2).

iiiLloyd-Jones D, Adams R, Brown T,. et al. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2010 Update: A Report from the American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcomittee. Circulation. 2010; 121:e1-e170

iv PubMed. The efficacy of omega-3 supplementation for major depression: a randomized controlled trial. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20584525. Accessed March 6, 2012.

Healthy Fish Make Waves On NBC

NBC News is taking aim at nutrition misinformation and Rima Kleiner from the Dish on Fish serves as the expert resource who helps the site separate fact from fiction. The answer?  Healthy fish.

 

Healthy Fish Is Part of the Wholesome Answer

 

In “5 Myths About Quitting Sugar, Debunked,” Rima notes, “the easiest way to keep added sugar intake low is to choose minimally processed whole foods, like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seafood, beans, nuts and seeds.” As part of the “Better – Diet & Fitness” tab, NBC helps readers navigate food fables and not surprisingly healthy fish is part of the wholesome answer when it comes to avoiding too much sugar.

 

Dietary Guidelines Help Provide a Roadmap

 

Rima helps readers navigate sugar issues with help from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, that notes less than 10 percent of total daily calories should come from added sugars.

 

Subtract Sugar by adding Seafood

 

Rima suggests people stop focusing on things they think they need to remove from their diet and focus, instead, on things they can add to their diet: “The easiest way to keep added sugar intake low is to choose minimally processed whole foods, like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seafood, beans, nuts and seeds,” says Kleiner. “If a client wants to go ‘no-sugar,’ I typically recommend that they focus on eating a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods and low in packaged or convenience foods. It may sound cliché, but think about it: A diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods is inherently going to be full of nutrient-dense foods, like vegetables, fruits, whole and ancient grains, seafood, beans, eggs, nuts and seeds. Simply put, I recommend following a Mediterranean-style diet if you want to avoid foods with added sugars.”

Confusing messaging illustrates that  nutrition questions abound. But more often than not the simple answer is healthy fish.

 

USDA: Americans Need to Eat More Seafood

This week, the USDA Economic Research Service published an article about seafood that tells an all too familiar tale, “Americans’ Seafood Consumption Below Recommendations.

The article highlights seafood as a nutrient-dense source of protein, low in calories and saturated fat, and rich in key vitamins and nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA.

The USDA’s 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that Americans eat a variety of protein food, including at least 2 servings of seafood per week, as part of a healthy eating pattern. Consumption data shows that most Americans are eating enough protein in general, but they’re not eating enough seafood.

The chart below illustrates that just 5% of the protein foods Americans ate in 2014 consisted of seafood, while the recommendation is 20%:

graphAt a time when Americans are told to limit so many foods, seafood is among the handful of foods Americans are encouraged to eat more often, and the information in this article helps illustrate why. Plus, adding seafood into a meal plan just twice each week is not a difficult feat. Visit DishOnFish.com for recipe ideas and preparation tips. It’s time Americans #ShiftToFish.

Nutritionist Beware: Risk Based Studies Confuse Consumers on Seafood Advice

Whenever a new scientific study is released, the press immediately searches for the headline. But too often that means oversimplifying or overemphasizing the most provocative results while ignoring the messy and complex evidence beneath.

Take the recent study funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). It concludes that the neurocognitive benefits of aerobic exercise may be blunted by high levels of mercury exposure. In fact, more than 90 percent of the participants in the study were exposed to levels of methylmercury above EPA limit of 5.8 mcg/L.

To a lay reader in the U.S., that might sound alarming. But it’s important to look beyond the headline. In this case, the research population came entirely from the Faroe Islands, located 200 miles north of England, where high-mercury whale meat is a major component of the diet.

But Americans—who eat far less fish, and virtually no whale meat to speak of! —have average levels of mercury far below the study population’s, and well within EPA recommended limits. So the study is of limited use. Especially since it doesn’t detail what other types of fish the test population were eating, or how much.

The NIEHS  press release does wisely cite the FDA draft advice for pregnant women and children on recommended levels of seafood consumption. This advice is in turn based on the FDA’s 2014 Net Effects report, which looked at over 100 scientific studies analyzing both the risks and the rewards of seafood consumption.

By contrast, the NIEHS study focuses solely on risks, without considering the rewards. That’s fine as a piece of research, but less helpful in informing life decisions. It’s like a study about whether you should buy a car that focuses only on auto accidents.

In the case of seafood consumption, the science is abundantly clear: the health benefits of eating fish greatly outweigh any hypothetical risks. The Omega-3 fatty acids contained in fish are essential for healthy brain and eye development, and long-term cardiovascular health. One long-term NIH study showed that children whose moms cut back on seafood during pregnancy had significantly lower developmental and IQ outcomes.

That’s why following the 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans—which recommend eating more fish than most Americans currently do—is so critical. Pregnant women should have two to three servings of fish a week, while avoiding four fish high in mercury: tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel.

Rima Kleiner, MS, RD

National Fisheries Institute

How to Give Positive Seafood Sustainability Advice

University of Washington fisheries expert Dr. Ray Hilborn and NFI’s Registered Dietitian, Jennifer McGuire, spoke with dietitians at the 2016 Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition (SCAN) Symposium:  Prescriptions for Sustainable Health, Performance and Practice. The conference took place in the land of sustainable living, Portland, OR, and Dr. Hilborn and Jennifer discussed how to incorporate seafood sustainability science into nutrition advice.

Dietitians and the families they work with are used to the old good fish/bad fish list approach to the topic of seafood sustainability.  But Dr. Hilborn, who literally wrote the book on the evolution of marine conservation, made the following points that call into question a prescriptive green fish/red fish approach:

  1. Fish lists are subjective and only consider the very specific issue of marine impacts. For example, skipjack tuna is plentiful, but shows up on both the green and red list of this fish card depending on how it’s caught (poll vs. net).  Net gets dinged because of bycatch, but what isn’t mentioned is the increased carbon footprint of poll fishing.  The bottom line is that there are trade-offs, and growing/harvesting ANY type of food makes some environmental mark.2016-04-13_10-42-33
  2. Seafood is one of the most sustainable food choices, relatively speaking. Sometimes we forget that people have to eat something, and seafood has among the lowest overall environmental costs compared to other types of food.

2016-04-13_10-49-16So if the lists are no good, what are some sound resources for seafood sustainability advice?  Jenn shared the following ideas for people who simply want to ensure their food choices are good for themselves and the environment:

  1. NOAA Fish Watch  – This site features science-based, well-rounded profiles of all different species of fish including information on the population, fishing rate, and habitat impacts as well as taste, texture, and health benefits.
  2. Grocery stores and restaurants  – Many retailers have seafood sustainability policies ensuring every type of fish within their store meets standards for sustainability.
  3. 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report – The DGAC brought in expert marine science consultants and made three conclusions related to seafood sustainability.

    1. Eat a wide variety of seafood.  Whether wild-caught or farmed, most species of fish have about the same amount of omega-3s.

    2. The recommendation to eat seafood at least twice each week could likely be met with continued careful fishing of wild seafood and increased amounts of farm-raised fish.

    3. Both farmed and wild-caught seafood are safe and healthy choices.

Seafood has such a promising story from both a nutrition and sustainability standpoint.