Is Seafood Nutritious?: The Health Benefits of Fish and Seafood
If you’re wondering ‘Is seafood nutritious?’, the answer is yes! A balanced diet is a prerequisite of a healthy lifestyle, and according to many experts, a balanced diet isn’t complete without fish and seafood.
Most nutritionists recommend eating fish or seafood at least twice a week. There are various reasons why you should include some kind of seafood in your diet:
- Low fat content: On average, seafood contains only 2% fat. Therefore, it’s ideal for people with diabetes and heart problems, as well as for athletes. Fish in particular, however, especially fatty fish like salmon or mackerel, is significantly higher in fat. Nevertheless, fish is rich in anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids that are an important part of a Lyme disease treatment diet.
- Low cholesterol: Although the human body needs some cholesterol to function properly, high levels of it can be very dangerous. Consuming too much food containing a lot of saturated fats can significantly increase cholesterol levels. Seafood is very low in saturated fats, and it can help decrease your risk of heart disease by 13%.
- High in nutrients: Seafood contains a high percentage of essential vitamins, protein and minerals.
- A source of omega-3: Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fats that are necessary for overall health, but especially for heart health. Seafood is considered the best natural source of omega-3, as the biological active forms EPA and DHA are abundant.
What’s the Most Nutritious Seafood?
So, is seafood safe to eat? This depends on the type. Seafood is, in general, one of the healthiest foods. However, certain types contain more nutrients than others:
- Tuna (especially albacore): Tuna is an oily fish with a high omega-3 content. The albacore or longfin tuna weighing less than 20lbs is the healthiest choice, because it has a lower mercury and higher omega-3 content.
- Salmon: Salmon is another type of oily fish. It has the highest omega-3 content when wild-caught in Alaska.
- Oysters: Farmed oysters are one of the healthiest kinds of seafood. A 3.5 oz portion of oysters contains over 672 mg of omega-3.
- Sardines: This tiny fish has more omega-3 than tuna, salmon and oysters, at 1480 mg per 3.5 oz.
The Effects of Seafood Production, Farming and Fishing on the Environment
According to a 2015 study published by the Institute for Coastal Marine Environment (IAMC), seafood farming can adversely impact the environment. The exact nature and extent of the environmental impact depends largely on the species farmed, the location of the farm and the intensity of production.
One of the main negative effects of seafood farming on marine life is water eutrophication, which is the presence of excessive amounts of nutrients in the water. This happens as the result of an increased number of fish in an area. It causes algae and other plants to grow densely and quickly, which may lead to oxygen depletion and boost the spreading of some diseases. This phenomenon poses a serious threat to the ecosystem.
Thankfully, in recent years substantial progress has been made in maintaining sustainability and protecting the environment. According to IAMC, the environmental impact of seafood farming can be reduced to nearly zero within the next decade.
Farmed Fish vs. Free Fish
Farmed fish are reared in controlled bodies of water, which are referred to as farms. Instead of searching for food in the wild, these fish are completely dependent on humans and can’t survive without being fed. Therefore, wild fish are considered stronger and genetically superior to farmed fish.
Just like other farm animals, farmed fish couldn’t survive in the wild. Also, due to water eutrophication, farmed fish often have diseases that aren’t present in natural marine environments. Introducing farmed fish to the wild would also introduce potentially dangerous diseases to the ecosystem.
Another aspect that must be considered is the husbandry conditions. In non-organic farming, many fish are fed with inappropriate food such as soy pellets, which keeps them from developing their natural amounts of omega 3 fatty acids. Furthermore, due to the high number of fish per square metre, the application of antibiotics and growth hormones is common.
Responsible and Sustainable Sourcing of Seafood
The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (1995) sets out the following principles for the responsible and sustainable sourcing of seafood:
- Traceability: Illegal, unreported and unregulated seafood must be avoided at all times. All seafood on the market must be tracked from its point of origin all the way to the point of sale. Details that must be recorded include capture method, geographical area, farm name, packaging and transportation.
- Transparency: Risk assessment communication to the supply chain is necessary. All legal documents need to be ready to be revised by any party involved in the process at any time.
- Risk Assessment: All parties involved are legally required to carry out their own audits and risk assessment.
- Improvement: Due to the negative impact fisheries have had on the environment, it’s now illegal to source seafood from high-risk areas.
How To Source Sustainable Seafood
If you want to know how to source safe fish and sustainable seafood, there are a few guidelines you should take into account.
- Choose the right species: The Marine Conservation Society regularly updates its list of fish that should be avoided and fish that are safe to eat. For example, if you like cod, make sure it comes from the north-east Arctic or eastern Baltic!
- Buy local and seasonal fish: Buying from sources near you not only helps support your local fishermen, but it also leads to a smaller carbon footprint. And it’s usually cheaper, too!
- Make sure it’s line-caught: Poor labelling can make finding line-caught fish quite difficult. Staff members should be able to assist you, but if they can't tell you exactly how the fish was caught, it’s best to leave it. Try to avoid bigeye and bluefin tuna, and look for line or poll caught albacore or skipjack tuna instead.
- Check the label: Over 5,000 different fish products across the world are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). For instance, most supermarkets stock MSC-certified Norwegian cod and Pacific cod.
- Eat organic: Organic farmed salmon and trout are good alternatives to wild-caught. They also cause significantly less pollution than other farmed fish. Fish such as tilapia or carp are even better choices.
- Choose SRA-certified restaurants: The Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) assists its members in sourcing ingredients ethically. Pick restaurants in their database when eating out!
Final tip: To gain more insight into labelling and production methods, it may be helpful to download a shopping guide that enables you to scan labels and check them for sustainability, traceability and quality aspects, right there in the store!