It is often said that as consumers we don’t eat enough fish and seafood. But how much is enough, and why is it important that we strive to reach a certain level of inclusion in our diet?
Apart from the pleasure that well-prepared fish and shellfish can give consumers, seafood is an excellent source of high-quality protein, comparing favourably with red meat and poultry. It averages less than 2% fat, most of which is unsaturated fat. Seafood is also an excellent source of many important minerals, including iodine, zinc, potassium and phosphorus, and is rich in a variety of vitamins.
Moreover, seafood is our primary source of the two long chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are only really found in marine products such as oily and non-oily fish, and shellfish. Essentially, it is the EPA and DHA that makes seafood different from all other food products.
Feeding body and brain
Since the 1970s, there have been around 40,000 studies conducted on the health benefits of seafood and omega-3s. Collectively, these have proven that EPA and DHA can reduce inflammation and help lower the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and arthritis.
With a third of the human brain’s key functional units made up of omega-3 fatty acids, they’re also important for the organ’s development and maintenance, as well as for physical growth and eye health. Furthermore, there’s growing evidence that they can help ease feelings of anxiety and stress.
There is no recommended standard dose of omega-3 fats for human wellbeing, but many health organisations promote a daily dose of between 250 and 500 milligrams of EPA and DHA for healthy adults. To help prevent memory loss, depression and heart problems, higher levels of 1,000 to 2,000mg are recommended.
What this advice means in terms of actual fish on our plates – using a typical 150g serving of farmed salmon fillet containing around 500mg of EPA and DHA as an example – is that we should be including fish and/or seafood in our diet a minimum of two to three times a week to ensure that our bodies are getting their required levels of omega-3.
Missing the mark
While some consumers manage to include the recommended amount of fish in their diet, in general, we are falling well short of the advice. Indeed, it is estimated that only around half of people are meeting this target, with considerable fluctuations from market to market. For instance, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), only one in 10 Americans are following the advice to eat two portions of seafood per week.
Consequently, the average American is consuming just 80-90mg of omega-3 EPA and DHA per day.
Worryingly, seafood inclusion tends to decrease among younger adults, and consumption by kids has been in steady decline for more than a decade. These trends prevail despite compelling studies establishing a direct link between fish consumption among pregnant women and their child’s brain development, and also that eating 1 to 3 servings of seafood a week during childhood and through adolescence is associated with a wide spectrum of neurocognitive benefits when compared to diets that don’t include seafood.
Fortunately, we are in an age in which society is becoming increasingly conscious of the importance of sensible eating habits, and the crucial need to adopt a lifestyle that incorporates a well-balanced, nutritious diet alongside regular exercise.
In many markets, October is annually recognised as seafood month, when we celebrate the fruits of the sea, but consumers should be encouraged year-round and at every opportunity to eat more fish – for their enjoyment and for their health.
With so much analysis pointing to a pressing need to build bridges and inspire a new generation of seafood eaters, the public should be constantly reminded that seafood is a superfood and is ideally placed to help deliver their nutritional security.