Protein. It is something that your body absolutely needs for life. According to the US Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines, we should be getting protein from a variety of sources including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy products. The amount of protein is related to your age and nutrition requirements.
Like any food source, each type of protein provides a variety of essential vitamins and minerals. And each type of protein is a product of its environment.
So when it is recommended that we eat more seafood, what do we need to know?
1. What are some health benefits of seafood?
Seafood tends to have lower saturated fat content than other meats. These proteins can help preserve your lean muscles, as well as act as a backup source of energy. Seafood tends to be
- Low in fat
- Low in cholesterol (though certain fish and shellfish are higher than others)
- High in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs): Omega-3s (particularly EPA and DHA) and Omega-6s, which cannot be manufactured by your body
- Vitamins A, C, E, D, B-series
- Minerals, particularly those hard to find in adequate nutritional amounts in other foods: zinc, magnesium, and especially iodine, selenium, chromium.
2. How easily accessible is seafood?
Seafood is a readily available staple in coastal communities.
Aquaculture, the cultivation of aquatic animals and plants in nature or controlled marine or freshwater environments, produces more than 50% of seafood for human consumption and continues to rise. As an industry, aquaculture also enhances, restores, and rebuilds aquatic habitats, as well as monitors potential hazards and contaminants. Aquaculture provides ready and regular access to seafood for many non-coastal communities throughout the world.
3. What are the safety concerns of seafood consumption?
There is one general safety concern with seafood consumption as well as two absolutely crucial concerns regarding seafood consumption to be aware of:
- Food-borne illnesses. No one likes to get food poisoning. Seafood can spoil and become breeding grounds for a variety of bacteria and viruses just like any other food product. Packaged seafood will have expiration dates and consumption recommendations. Coastal communities often have conventional wisdom guiding the consumption of fresh local seafood.
Only eat oysters in months with an R.
- Allergies. As an aspect of food-borne illness, seafood allergies can be life-threatening. Like other specific allergies (nuts versus peanuts specifically, gluten versus wheat gluten, etc.), seafood allergies can be just as complex to determine. It could be an allergy of fish versus shellfish versus mollusks. It could be one specific allergy, like clams. It could be one specific protein found in all aquatic animals, like chitin. Allergy testing can help with specifics, but trial-and-error on reactions to certain foods can also help guide you.
- Mercury. Mercury is a heavy metal contaminant found in water environments. Mercury levels vary by environment and are often found in higher levels of fin fish.
Protein choices from the sea fall into three categories. Nutrient distribution among these categories are different, but the health benefits cannot be discounted.
- Fish. Fish have fins, boney skeletons with a backbone and scales. Fish are a superb source of protein. Fattier fish are often found in colder waters, but also provide higher amounts of those omega-3 fatty acids.
- Shellfish. In contrast to regular fish, shellfish encompasses the consumption of the entire creature sans shell. This includes the muscle meat, organs, and digestive tissue, and therefore a plethora of nutrients in a single consumable entity. Transform your thinking of shellfish from a protein source into a whole food supplement, a powerhouse of nutrition. Shellfish often take on flavorful aspects of the marine or freshwater environs where they were harvested, as well lending themselves to a variety of cooking seasonings and styles, and interesting textures. Shellfish is further divided into two subcategories:
- Crustaceans or Arthropods have long bodies and jointed limbs covered by shell: lobster, crab, shrimp, crayfish.
- Mollusks have soft bodies covered by at least one shell: oysters, clams, mussels, scallops.
Contact your local Metabolic Medical Center to review your nutritional requirements, and to incorporate more seafood into your meal planning and consumption.