Keeping Seafood’s Seat at the White House’s Table

This article ran in Urner Barry’s Reporter Magazine.

Seafood is arguably the healthiest animal protein on the planet. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) encourage people to eat two-to-three servings of seafood each week for numerous health benefits throughout the lifespan, including brain development in babies and strong bones and muscle maintenance in older adults. 

The DGA are an important vehicle for nutrition policy —they inform what’s in school lunches; Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food packages; and feeding programs for older adults.  Seafood has long been mentioned by the DGA as a healthy, lean protein and the 2010 DGA include the first specific guidance to eat two-to-three servings of seafood each week.  Since then, the seafood recommendations have become stronger and clearer.  The current 2020-2025 DGA encourage caregivers and healthcare professionals to introduce foods rich in omega-3s, like seafood, to babies beginning around the age of six months, rounding out recommendations for all parts of the life cycle. 

The latest DGA also emphasize that 94% of children and 80% of adults do not eat enough fish. The evolution of seafood in the DGA sees it move from a vaguely healthy choice to a powerful source of specific benefits from birth to old age.

While this shift in seafood’s place at the table has been monumental, there’s more the federal government can do to help turn nutrition advice into actual changes in the way Americans eat.   

Clear Up Confusing and Complex Seafood Advice

As the White House plans to convene its Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health for the first time in more than 50 years it will be important to make sure future seafood advice is clear, concise and science-based.  Consumers, policymakers and even many doctors are still confused about the benefits of seafood, particularly during pregnancy.  

The science is crystal clear – seafood, including traces of mercury alongside beneficial nutrients like omega-3s and selenium – provides brain development (and continued brain health) benefits.  Period.

The White House has the power to declare for once and for all what the Dietary Guidelines allude to:  The demonstrable health risk associated with eating seafood is not eating enough to reap the benefits.   

Focus on the Foods – like Fish – That Improve Public Health the Most  

The amount of health problems and potential interventions the White House could explore is overwhelming.  The science must inform the diseases with the greatest detriment to well-being and the most powerful dietary interventions.  For example, a Harvard School of Public Health study estimates that low seafood intake is responsible for about 84,000 American lives lost to heart disease each year, which makes seafood deficiency the second-biggest dietary contributor to preventable deaths in the U.S.  

Promote Affordable Accessible Seafood Options 

The 2020-2025 DGA emphasizes a need for affordable, healthy protein, “despite a common perception that eating healthfully is expensive, a healthy dietary pattern can be affordable and fit within budgetary constraints.” Frozen and canned seafood fill that need perfectly and pack a nutritious punch.

The Importance of Communicating the Benefits of Eating Seafood 

The medical and nutrition community, globally, agree; seafood is the healthiest animal protein on the planet, and maintaining access to safe healthy food, like seafood, will be imperative as we aim to feed a growing population.   

Seafood is a food to be encouraged and is not only needed for a new and aging population, but essential. It’s time for the federal government to effectively educate and communicate to Americans about seafood and the role it plays in their lifelong health and there is no bigger platform to serve these facts from than the White House’s own table.