Did you know?
Seafood is a healthier alternative to meat and according to the Australian Dietary Guidelines we should be eating more of it – two or three fish meals a week.
Fish is an excellent source of protein
- It contains essential vitamins (particularly A and D) and minerals (such as iodine)
- The oily types of fish are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids that are good for your heart (see Omega-3)
- Unlike fatty meat products, even oily fish is low in saturated fat.
Healthy Omega 3 Oils
After several medical studies, it now appears that the Omega 3 fatty acids help keep our bodies from over producing eicosanoids, a group of hormone-like substances that can, in large amounts, contribute to arthritis, asthma, heart disease, stroke and related disorders. A diet that balances plant foods (vegetables & fruit) with seafood and their omega 3 fatty acids, remains an effective and enjoyable way to combat health problems. Most seafood contains Omega 3 polyunsaturated oil, oil that is unique to seafood.
Omega 3 Oils assist in blood circulation by lowering blood fats and preventing blood clot formation. This aids blood circulation and researchers believe it reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Research also indicates the Omega 3 oil in fish acts as an anti inflammatory agent and so may reduce the risk of a wide range of health problems, including asthma, pulmonary disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disease.
High in Protein and low in Fat and Cholesterol
A single serve of fish or other seafood (150 grams) provides 50%-60% of the daily protein needs for an adult. All seafood is low in fat less than 5% fat. All seafood is low in cholesterol with 3 exceptions, prawns, squid and fish roe. However, the higher amounts of cholesterol in these foods are offset by the beneficial omega 3 oils they contain. In comparison to meat, most seafood has similar levels of cholesterol, but only a fraction of the saturated fat. For example, a 150 gram fillet of fish has less than 1 gram of fat and most of this fat is polyunsaturated.
High in Vitamins and Minerals
Seafood is an excellent source of vitamins including iodine, which is essential for the thyroid gland functioning, iron for red cell formation, and zinc is required for wound healing. They are especially rich in niacin, essential for a healthy skin and for the release of energy in the body and vitamin B complex needed for metabolic processes. Oysters, mussels and scallops are excellent sources of iron and zinc.
Oysters and mussels have nearly three times as much iron as most meats and oysters are the richest food source of zinc.
Seafood also supplies phosphorus (a mineral needed for strong bones and teeth and for many of the B-group vitamins to be used effectively) Potassium (essential for muscles and nerves and for controlling blood pressure); and small quantities of many other essential minerals, including magnesium. They are a natural source of sodium. Oysters, prawns scallops contribute calcium, the mineral needed for healthy bones and teeth and for proper functioning of nerves and muscles.
Getting Seafood into your diet – what to do
What can you do to increase your seafood consumption level? First, ask yourself what seafood you already like and eat regularly. Review your favourite seafood recipes; then ask your retailer what other fish or shellfish could be substituted for your usual species. Trying new seafood in old recipes will increase the variety of seafood you eat.
Next, try substituting seafood in some of your recipes that call for red meat or poultry. You can add seafood to homemade pizza, pasta and even tacos. Seafood is a natural in many stir-fry recipes. If once a week or even every other week you substitute seafood in recipes in which you formerly used red meats or poultry, you will have taken another step to increase the amount of seafood you eat.
Restaurants are good places to try new types of seafood. Ask the staff what the seafood tastes like and how it is prepared; then you can judge whether or not you might like it. Ask questions when you are at your local seafood retailer, your seafood retailer may have some delicious recipes to share.
Remember, seafood is naturally nutritious and is low in calories and total fat. By putting more seafood, prepared healthfully, in your diet today, you may be able to look forward to a healthier future.
Eat more seafood, expert urges
Australians can significantly improve their health by eating seafood at least twice a week, says a leading nutrition expert.
Dr Shawn Somerset has been studying the role of seafood in meeting the latest guidelines on healthy eating from the Australian Government’s National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
“The health benefits of seafood are well established and internationally-recognised, particularly in relation to heart health,” Dr Somerset said. “A switch to seafood and away from other less nutritionally valuable foods could significantly extend lifespan and quality of life for many Australians.”
He also recommended portions of 200 to 250 grams rather than the standard portion of 150 grams. “Eating fish or other seafood twice a week should be the minimum consumption level simply to avoid deficiencies in essential nutrients such as Omega-3 fat and iodine.
“However, to achieve optimum nutrition, I would recommend at least four meals per week of 200 to 250-gram portions of fish or other seafood. This is achievable, considering there are 21 meal opportunities every week.
“Potentially, this would make an enormous improvement to the health of the Australian community, given that surveys indicate that presently only 25% of Australians eat seafood an average of even once a week.”
Research finds Omega-3 benefits for children
Delegates at a recent Joint New Zealand & Australian Nutrition Societies Conference heard how omega-3s are beneficial for children.
New research reported by an international team of nutrition scientists and health experts at the Omega-3 Centre found conclusive evidence of improved brain growth, development, increased attention, improved learning and behaviour patterns.
This is of particular interest as a range of health problems among New Zealand children is being partly attributed to diets lacking oily fish and other foods rich in long chain Omega-3s.
This dietary shortfall in Omega-3 is causing concern for health experts who recommend that growing children should increase their intake of Omega-3s by as much as five times their current level.
The evidence supporting the benefits of Omega-3 is strong enough to suggest healthcare professionals should consider Omega-3s as an adjunct in the treatment of children with developmental brain disorders such as ADHD, dyslexia and dyspraxia. Long-chain Omega-3s are required by every cell in the body and are essential nutrients for a number of key health functions with an important role in brain growth, development, behaviour, learning and bone health.
The findings resulted from a one-day workshop convened by the Omega-3 Centre in April, 2007 to help raise community and government awareness and increased understanding of what the report says is a ‘key nutritional issue’ for children’s health.
Massey University Professor Marlena Kruger, PhD, is director of the Human Nutrition and Health division and a key contributor to the report prepared by the seven-member scientific panel.
“This may be due to children not being introduced to oily fish early in life or fish cakes made from sardines may not be as popular now as it was when we were children,” she said.
She said that eating fish high in Omega-3 aids in making glucose and energy available for muscle growth and may also help build strong bones in children.
“The essential role Omega-3 plays in ensuring healthy physical and cognitive growth and development is too important to ignore,” Kruger said.
The report contains 21 recommendations on Omega-3 intakes, communication to parents, health professionals and government as well as suggestions for further research.
The Omega-3 Centre established in 2006 is dedicated to effectively communicating the health benefits of Omega-3s, where to find them and promoting Omega-3 research and development.