Seafood has a lot going for it. It's an excellent source of protein and supplies various nutrients including the omega-3 essential fatty acids — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — and vitamin D, selenium and choline.
The American Heart Association encourages Americans to have at least two servings of seafood per week – preferably fatty fish for the omega-3 benefits – amounting to about eight ounces total. Yet, the average intake of seafood is a measly three-and-a-half ounces per week, less than half of the recommendation.
Why is that, and what do you need to know to strive for more seafood in your diet?
"Seafood is Too Expensive"
And, indeed, fresh varieties often can be listed at a price-per-pound that is more expensive than beef and chicken. Avoid the high prices by trying canned seafood, which can be inexpensive and pre-cooked and may contain more nutrients than fresh. For example, canned salmon contains its bones (which are nearly impossible to tease out) which provides a boost of calcium.
Or, look for sales and don't be afraid to visit the frozen food section. Almost all fish sold in U.S. grocery stores is frozen or thawed from frozen. There is no real difference in nutritional quality or taste.
"I'm Worried about Sustainability and Farmed Fish"
Fish isn't exactly a local food. Unless you are lucky enough to live near a fish market, most likely you will be purchasing fish that came from overseas. In fact, the United States imports most of its seafood (about 90 percent). But, because all seafood sold in the U.S. is required to have country-of-origin labels (COOL), it is easy to find out where the fish came from.
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee did a comprehensive evidence-based review on farmed versus wild-caught fish and found that farm-raised fish is comparable in nutrient quality to wild-caught, and that farm-raised finfish, such as salmon, are more sustainable than animals raised on land in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and land and water use.
If you are worried about the sustainability of seafood, the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program has printable consumer guides for all 50 states — good for home and travel. The three categories — "Best Choices," "Good Alternatives" and "What to Avoid" — make finding ocean-friendly seafood choices based on the season and region easy.
"I'm Concerned about Mercury, Particularly for Pregnant Women"
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a draft revised recommendation for pregnant women, encouraging them to eat eight to 12 ounces of seafood per week, or two to three servings. The benefits of fish consumption far outweigh any risks for mercury contamination, particularly if the top fish sources of mercury (including tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel) are avoided.
"I Don't Know How to Prepare Seafood"
Findings from USDA research published in 2014 found that inexperience with cooking seafood, coupled with the cost, may be a huge barrier to seafood consumption. In fact, more than two-thirds of seafood in America is eaten outside the home.
Of course, there are plenty of places to find excellent recipes for seafood. For instance, the National Fisheries Institute's website, AboutSeafood.com, allows users to search for recipes by fish type, cuisine, meal type or cooking technique.
Whatever your reason for not eating enough seafood in the past, make 2016 the year you meet your dietary goals.