As one of the most nutritious and sustainable sources of protein, seafood is among some of the healthiest foods we can eat. If you’ve been holding back, here’s why it’s easier to start than you think.
It’s no secret that seafood can pack a punch when it comes to nutrition. It’s included in the diets of the some of the healthiest populations around the world, and many cultures have a long history of enjoying seafood in traditional diets.
And for many folks who are trying to get dinner on the table after a long day, fish and seafood can be quick and easy options to help them make the best food choices for their families that they can.
But first, what do we know about the science around seafood and its health benefits?
Most of the attention has been on the large body of research around Omega-3s; in fact, Omega-3s are one of the most studied nutrients of all! Here’s a quick rundown of what we know about its benefits:
- Heart Health: Enjoying seafood on a regular basis can help lower blood pressure, decrease triglyceride levels, and increase consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids.
- Brain Health: Seafood is a rich source of EPA and DHA, the fatty acids that can be protective for brain health in adults and support healthy brain development in infants and children. That’s why it’s recommended that pregnant women meet the recommended intake for seafood (two servings per week) to support a healthy pregnancy.
- Depression and Mood: There appears to be a link between high consumption of seafood and lower rates of depression in cultures that eat a lot of fish. Omega-3s may also help with depression and other mood disorders, but more research is needed and supplements should not be considered a primary treatment.
If you’re not quite feeling ready to add more fish and seafood to your weekly meal planning, here are a few more reasons to stop holding back.
1. You don’t always need to buy it fresh.
There’s actually little or no nutritional difference between fresh, frozen, and canned seafood, which makes it easier to access since it’s not always practical or affordable to purchase it fresh. In fact, we have an abundance of options that can fit many budgets since frozen or canned options are often less expensive. They can even be better quality than some of the fresh options depending on where you shop.
2. You’ve got a lot of options.
There are so many types of seafood to choose from, so if you don’t like one, there’s another to try instead! Most people that are hesitant to add more seafood are wary of the fishy taste, so start out with white fish. This is a category of fish that’s less “fishy” tasting because of a lower fat content. Fat carries flavor, so oily fish such as salmon have a much different taste and texture. Some varieties of fish that might be a good place to start:
- Cod, halibut, or tilapia
- Freshwater fish like trout or catfish
- Tuna from cans or pouches
Seafood like shellfish or crustaceans are another good place to start if you don’t enjoy fish. Shrimp or scallops can be less intimidating because of their smaller size. If you don’t want to commit to a full serving, you can just test the waters with a piece or two. And of course, there’s always crab and lobster that are usually served in really yummy ways with lots of butter for flavor or sauces for dipping.
Some other tips:
- Maybe don’t start with something like mussels or oysters – the texture and appearance might not be the most encouraging for newbies….but they’re still delicious and might be something you enjoy later.
- Tinned or canned fish can be really affordable, but might also be intimidating. Sardines and anchovies, as nutritious as they are, might not have a lot of appeal if you’re cautious about eating fish that still looks like…you know…a fish. But keep an open mind, there is great taste and nutrition to be had by expanding your options!
3. There are so many ways to cook it.
Smoking, grilling, and baking – there are so many ways to cook fish and seafood that will also yield very different flavors. Just experiment with how you prepare your favorite, and try different herbs and seasonings to refresh your routine.
In general, fish and seafood should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees for food safety. If you don’t have a kitchen thermometer, you can also base doneness on appearance and texture. For example, raw fish will appear translucent. As it cooks, it becomes more opaque. Look for a flaky texture as well – fish that’s fully cooked with flake easily and pull apart from the fillet. You can use a fork to test this. Just take your fork and poke the top of the thicket part of your fish. Give it a gentle twist so you can get a peek at the color inside, as well as seeing how flaky it is. If it needs a little more time, pop it back in for a few more minutes and you’ll be good to go.
Another really easy rule of thumb for baking fish? The ten-minute rule. This is a fool-proof way to avoid over- or under-cooking your fish. Simple bake for ten minutes per one inch of thickness. This usually means you’re only baking 10-15 minutes, which means it can be really easy to get dinner on the table in less than 20 minutes!
4. The harm from eating too much seafood is low.
The real risk is actually eating too little fish, not too much. But mercury concerns are valid and something to be aware of. It’s rare to see mercury toxicity from seafood consumption but it does happen if someone were to only eat high-mercury fish. Mercury is a neurotoxin so definitely something to watch out for to avoid some serious side effects. Here are four common species to be aware of:
- King Mackerel
- White or albacore tuna
Just be aware that mercury is found in low or trace amounts in most fish, not just these four species. It is ingested as part of their natural diets and accumulates in the flesh. However, the guidelines to consume eight to twelve ounces of fish per week are established as safe levels of intake. Advisories are also issued through state and local health departments and the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) if there is concern for high mercury levels in local or domestic fish.
For pregnant women, Big Eye Tuna (like the type used in sushi) is the one to avoid. Otherwise, there is no risk to using tuna as an option to get your recommended two servings of seafood per week.
So get creative, and enjoy all the nutritious benefits from our friends in the sea.
Adapted from the original article.
HEADER IMAGE: ALISON MARRAS
Cara Harbstreet, MS, RD, LD is a Kansas City-based Registered Dietitian helping individuals jumpstart their journey to wellness. By breaking the cycle of dieting, Cara focuses on creating sustainable lifestyle changes for people who are motivated to reclaim their health. Connect with Cara over at Street Smart Nutrition.