Stopping to think more about our food from the sea
Fish has long been a staple in my Mediterranean diet. In my household, we still eat fish, but much less often and much more carefully than before.
This is not because I have changed my mind about the health benefits of fish for humans. Instead, it is because I have become increasingly concerned about the adverse health effects of fish. In particular, the growing global human population is wreaking havoc on the world’s fisheries and hitting the oceans just like the land.
Our appetite for various animals as food has implications for ethics, ecosystems, biodiversity, environmental disruption, and climate far beyond our diets.
It is admittedly inconvenient to consider all of this at feeding time, but we are all obligated to be realistic about the times in which we live. This is our time, and so is reality.
The good and the bad of eating fish.
Fish is good for us. Epidemiological research studies looking at health outcomes in groups have long and consistently shown better overall results for people who routinely eat fish.
There are several possible reasons for this. One is that fatty fish and seafood provide concentrated doses of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids essential to our metabolism and hard to get elsewhere. Our Stone Age ancestors likely received higher omega-3 than we adapted from land animals fed on wild plants.
However, one theory gaining traction in paleoanthropology is that humans evolved preferentially at the interface of land and water, and we have long been getting omega-3 fats from seafood.
Still, there are legitimate concerns about contaminants in fish. These include industrial chemicals such as PCBs and heavy metals.
Heavy metals such as mercury are subject to “bioconcentration, “which accumulates up the food chain as larger animals eat smaller ones. Mercury is, therefore, a particular problem in large predatory fish, including swordfish and the larger tuna species.
Research showing health benefits from eating fish is despite such contaminants, implying that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. That being said, public use is to eat medium-sized fish instead of enormous fish to avoid higher exposure to contaminants, with particular attention to potential exposure to mercury during pregnancy.
Fish instead of what?
An important consideration regarding the health effects of eating fish and anything often overlooked is what is eliminated from the diet to make room for it. Another reason for the health benefits of fish, other than the omega-3 fatty acids, is that fish in the diet generally displaces foods that are less good for us. For example, people who eat more fish tend to eat less red and processed meat. Therefore, the benefits of routinely eating fish may be based on displacing meat and reducing saturated fat intake.
But the question “instead of what?” cuts both ways.
How about adding fish to a balanced vegetarian or vegan diet? We don’t yet have studies to answer that question directly, but data from a 2010 study from Harvard are informative, as shown in this table from the paper. The bars show the relative risks for coronary heart disease associated with replacing one primary dietary protein source with another; bars on the right mean higher risk, bars on the left represent lower risk. Of course, fish reduces risk when it replaces other animal foods. But when plant protein sources, namely nuts and beans, replace fish, they further reduce risk.
This means that eating fish is good in the typical American diet, which can replace meat.
However, there is no compelling case for seeking to add fish to an otherwise balanced vegetarian or vegan diet, and there are important environmental reasons not to do so. Since populations on balanced vegetarian and vegan diets are among the healthiest and longest-lived globally, it seems likely that fish derive the most significant benefit from displacing other animal foods.
Power For The Brain: The intake of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which can be found in various fish, promotes cognitive and brain growth. It helps improve concentration and overall brain function.
Word Of Warning: While frozen and canned varieties can be convenient, nothing beats fresh meat. Buy meat from a clean and safe store or vendor to ensure it is not contaminated, critical for health. Also, seawater fish are generally high in salt and should be avoided by some.
We are all becoming more and more aware of the importance of a healthy diet. There is no doubt that a balanced diet is a crucial factor in a healthy lifestyle and is at the top of our consciousness. Seafood is one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. The nutritional value of seafood is paramount to our body’s health and especially to brain function and the nervous system. In addition, one serving of seafood can provide almost half of an adult’s protein needs with only 100-200 calories.
Seafood: The nutritional benefits.
Seafood averages less than 2% fat and is low in kilo-joules, leaner than meat and chicken. As a result, they have the benefit of being low in cholesterol. Eating seafood a couple of times a week has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels. Seafood also compares favorably to meat and chicken as a source of high-quality protein.
Seafood is also a significant source of vitamins and minerals for a healthy diet. Iodine, zinc, potassium, phosphorus, vitamin D, and the B vitamins make it a nutrient-rich option. It also has the benefit of being rich in the essential nutrient omega-3. Omega-3 plays a vital role in our bodies and is a crucial building block for the brain, retinal function, and other vital organs like the heart.
Seafood: mental health benefits.
Academic Research in this area has found that people who eat seafood regularly are much less likely to suffer from depression. In addition, several studies with controlled trials have underscored the positive relationship between omega-3 fatty acids and depression.
In addition, because seafood is such a critical nutritional factor in healthy brain function, it has been a very positive effect on protecting the brain from age-related decline. Studies have shown that people who eat more fish have slower cognitive decline.
Seafood: lifestyle benefits
A problem that is becoming more common throughout the world is sleep quality. This is due primarily to overexposure to blue light and widespread (especially in Ireland) vitamin D deficiency. Studies have shown a vastly positive correlation between seafood consumption and sleep quality and suggest that this is mainly due to seafood being one of the best sources of vitamin D.
Fish also has the added benefit of being a good option for those looking to reduce the risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and the risk of several autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes.
As for protein, many types of seafood have a relatively high protein-to-calorie ratio, packing about 7 grams of protein per ounce.
By way of example, Shrimp is rich in protein and contains two antioxidants that have been shown to help stave off disease and aging. Clams are loaded with potassium and the highest concentration of B12 of any meal. Six raw oysters contain 32 milligrams of zinc, 400 percent the suggested daily level. And fatty fish have been chock full of vitamin D.
Those are just a few examples of the nutritional perks of seafood; to reap the advantages, it’s key to eat an assortment of shellfish and fish, says Sass. Every so often, swap your go-to salmon filet for fish or clams, ” she proposes.