Seafood and Health
What are the health benefits of seafood?
Leading health organizations and the recently released US Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2020-2025) recommend Americans eat seafood at least 2 x a week for better health – throughout the lifespan and there is strong research to support this.
Eating seafood twice a week can help:
- Reduce your risk of HEART DISEASE
- Influences your MENTAL HEALTH in a positive way, including reducing risk of depression and anxiety. Fish is like a multivitamin for your brain. The nutrients that tend to be low in people who are depressed – vitamin D, magnesium, and zinc – are found in fish.
- Leads to IMPROVED BRAIN and EYE development in infants, children and adults – keeps your BRAIN SHARP throughout the lifespan
- Seafood provides omega 3s, protein, vitamin D, vitamin A, B vitamins, calcium, phosphorous, iron, zinc and magnesium, selenium
- Studies show omega-3s can reduce risk of heart disease, depression, dementia and arthritis, and improve overall happiness. The recommendation is to eat a variety of seafood at least twice a week – aiming to consume an average of 250 to 500 milligrams of omega-3s EPA and DHA per day.
Find out more about the health benefits of seafood from my friends at Seafood Nutrition Partnership.
What fish or shellfish do you recommend eating most often?
As with anything, variety is a key. Because different kinds of fish and shellfish offer different nutrients, it’s best to choose a variety of seafood options throughout your week. That being said, we aim to have fatty fish (like salmon, Arctic char) at least once, if not twice a week because of the essential fatty acids they provide. These fatty acids (omega-3 fats) have shown to be beneficial for brain health, heart health and beyond.
Our recommendation is eat what you like! Then challenge yourself with trying a new fish or shellfish once a month – you’ll be sure to find a few new favorites.
What are omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy essential fats that you need to get from your diet – your body cannot produce them. There are 3 main types – short chain ALA (found mainly in plant foods like flax, flax oil, walnuts, walnut oil, canola oil, soybean oil), long chain DHA and EPA. DHA and EPA are found mainly in seafood (including algae) and some grass fed dairy products (eggs, milk, yogurt) and DHA/EPA fortified foods. Your body ALA converts to DHA/EPA in the body, but not efficiently, so you need to consume more plant based ALA to get the same benefits you would from eating fatty fish.
Omega-3s play important roles in the body as components cell membranes and take on many functions in the body’s cardiovascular, pulmonary, endocrine and immune systems.
Research has shown omega-3s to be beneficial for reducing inflammation and essential for brain and heart health – including reduced risk of heart disease, depression, dementia, arthritis and more.
Health organizations, including the American Heart association, recommend getting 250-500 mg of EPA + DHA per day – the equivalent of eating 2 servings of fatty fish per week.
What fish and shellfish are highest in omega-3 fats?
The first fish most of us think of when we hear omega-3s is salmon. But along with that fan-favorite, there are many other fish and shellfish that are packed with omega-3s – including: sardines, swordfish, trout, mussels, Pacific oysters, mackerel, herring, anchovies, crab, squid, albacore tuna on the higher end (>500mg/4 ounce cooked portion). Then, at lower levels (<500mg/serving) you’ll find halibut, snapper, grouper, clams, scallops, Eastern oysters, ahi tuna, lobster, mahi mahi, cod and more. All seafood contain some omega-3s.
For reference, health organizations, including the American Heart Association, recommended to eat an average of 250-500mg a day of DHA + EPA.
And, we love salmon (we probably eat it more often than all other seafood), but try to expand your horizons beyond salmon to explore what else is out there.
For a breakdown of omega-3 levels by species, here’s a great visual from Seafood Nutrition Partnership.
Seafood for Kiddos
My child won't try seafood, do you have any tips?
Yes! Here are a few tips that have worked for us over the years in raising little seafoodies:
- Pair it with something familiar. Serve the seafood at a meal along with items they already know and love. Offer just a small portion of it.
- Prepare it in a familiar way. If your kids love seasoned and breaded chicken tenders, make seasoned and breaded fish fingers. Same recipe, just different protein.
- Don’t fear the flavor. Our kiddos don’t like spicy things, but they do like flavor. So, I add flavor without going overboard. One thing Lucca doesn’t like though is green things (herbs) in his food, so I remove any fresh herbs in his portion. My kids’s favorite salmon recipe has a rub that combines brown sugar, cumin, garlic powder and salt.
- Try it at lunch. Lucca is a lot more willing to try new foods at lunch time vs dinnertime, which tends to always be meltdown hour. That’s how we got him to try canned tuna. I had tuna in my salad one day and he wanted to try it. I didn’t even have to offer it up.
- Put it on YOUR plate. Or, in our case, Daddy’s. Lucca will eat whatever Daddy eats, so be a role model by eating the foods you want your child to eat.
- Add a dipping sauce. Peanut sauce, tartar sauce, cocktail sauce, sour cream/Greek yogurt mixed with Old Bay Seasoning, citrus vinaigrette or even ranch dressing are great sauces to try with seafood. Or offer simply melted butter and lemon juice.
- Crust it and cake it. Add crunchy seasoned panko breadcrumbs. Or put fish or shellfish into a crispy patty or cake – like salmon or crab patties.
- Don’t force it. If your kiddo doesn’t want to try it, move on and try another day. Often times it takes multiple exposures to a new flavor before a child begins to like it.
Should kids eat seafood?
100% yes! Seafood is great for kiddos – starting from age 6 months and up. Why?
Fish and shellfish are packed with vitamins, minerals and nutrients essential for healthy growing bodies. Seafood contains healthy omega-3 fats, protein, B vitamins, Vitamin D, zinc, selenium and more – the amounts and mix of nutrients varies, depending on the species.
The nutrients in fish help support growing brains (even beneficial for IQs!), healthy hearts, healthy eyes, strong bones and a strong immune system.
Research has shown kids who eat fish do better in school (improved IQ and reading skills), better focus, sleep better and have reduced levels of anxiety than kids who don’t eat fish.
Here’s a one-page download about the health benefits of fish for kiddos created by Seafood Nutrition Partnership.
Choosing and Buying Seafood
What's better - fresh or frozen seafood?
Both are great options, it just depends on the circumstance. Fresh and frozen have a place in our house on a weekly basis. The question you should ask yourself is how fresh is fresh? If fresh isn’t very fresh – go with frozen!
We are lucky to live on Cape Cod, where we have access to incredible local fresh seafood year round. And that’s what we choose most often, because the texture of even excellent frozen fish is still slightly different than fresh fish.
That being said, you cannot beat frozen fish/shellfish for convenience, affordability (it’s typically cheaper than fresh) – and for those of you who do not live close to the coast. We always have frozen shrimp, homemade crab cakes and often frozen tuna steaks in our freezer. The great thing is that frozen fish and shellfish thaw very quickly – if you haven’t thawed in the refrigerator overnight, you can thaw in a bowl of cool water in just a few minutes (less for shrimp and scallops and a bit more for filets). But you can also cook directly from frozen.
It’s important to note that the freezing process for fish has improved drastically over recent years. Most fish is flash frozen directly on the boat where it is caught, just minutes after being caught. That means the quality is preserved – freshness, nutrition and flavor are locked in. And, this flash freezing process results in a much better texture than what you would get from freezing your own fish in a home freezer. Look for vacuum sealed options, as those will preserve quality the best.
Also, important to note – many of the “fresh” seafood options available at your local supermarket are actually previously frozen. So – ask your fishmonger is the fish is actually fresh or if it’s been frozen and thawed. If it’s the latter, our recommendation is to go to the freezer case and buy the same fish frozen and thaw it yourself at home. It’ll be fresher that way.
What about canned seafood - is that a good option?
Yes! Canned seafood is a nutritious, affordable, convenient and delicious option.
We always keep canned light and chunk white tuna (we prefer the tuna in olive oil), canned salmon (we prefer the cans without the skin and bones), sardines, anchovies – and sometimes mussels and trout in our pantry. And canned crab always has a place in our fridge.
Canned seafood is great for quick meals – either used straight out of the can (atop salads or in sandwiches) or used in recipes (like salmon or tuna burgers).
Do you have any budget-friendly tips for incorporating seafood in my family's diet?
Sure do! Seafood can be an affordable, nutritious and delicious addition to anyone’s diet, regardless of budget. It shouldn’t just be reserved for special occasions.
Here are a few tips for incorporating seafood on a tight budget:
- Shop canned and frozen options – these tend to be more affordable than fresh
- Shop sales – this is an obvious one, but typically supermarkets will offer specials on a few seafood species at least once a week. Similarly, there is always a brand of frozen and canned seafood on sale
- Buy frozen in bulk – if you have room in your freezer, stock up on individually frozen fish and shellfish in bulk, which tends to be more affordable than smaller packages
- Buy local – if you live near the coast, you may be able to buy local direct from a fisherman at great prices
- Think beyond the big fish – smaller canned species like sardines and anchovies – and shellfish like mussels, clams and oysters are inexpensive and are packed with nutrition, making them a great addition to meals
Which is better - wild or farmed seafood?
The choice isn’t wild versus farmed, it’s responsiblly managed and sourced versus not. We need both in order to fulfill the global demand for seafood. Aquaculture can both help us meet global demand and reduce the pressure on wild fisheries. By buying sustainable wild-caught and responsibly farmed seafood, you are purchasing seafood that is healthy for you and our oceans.
Farming fish, shellfish, and seaweed is vital for supporting seafood production, year-round jobs, and rebuilding threatened and endangered species and habitats. In the U.S., the most common farmed species include oysters, clams, mussels, and shrimp, and fish such as catfish, trout, salmon and sea bass.
What is sustainable seafood and how do I make sure I am buying seafood that's sustainably sourced?
Sustainable seafood means that there’s little impact on the marine environment and that:
- wild-caught seafood comes from a well-managed fishery (healthy population of fish stocks)
- farmed seafood comes from a farm following responsible practices
When it comes to the environment, both farmed and wild fish and shellfish can be harvested responsibly, or not, so it is best to find out the sustainability policy of your grocer/fish monger or look for a trusted certification on the package. And – don’t be afraid to ask questions! About certifications, policies and how fresh the fish is. The good news is that the majority of U.S. retailers have sustainability sourcing policies in place.
Some of the certifications you can look for include:
- ASC: Aquaculture Stewardship Council
- BAP: Best Aquaculture Practices
- MSC: Marine Stewardship Council
- Fair Trade USA
- Certified Sustainable Alaska
You can also visit FishWatch.gov or download the Seafood Watch app from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, both of which list sustainable seafood choices based on where the fish is from, how it was caught and additional factors.
One last note – if you’re lucky enough to be buying LOCAL seafood, you’re purchasing sustainable seafood. Supporting your local fishermen and women whose livelihood depends on those seafood sales helps support your community. And it means your seafood traveled minimal miles and through no middle men – so you are getting the freshest seafood you can buy – unless you catch it yourself!
Seafood Recommended Resources
What resources would you recommend to learn more about seafood?
For nutrition-related seafood resources:
- Seafood Nutrition Partnership – seafood nutrition information for the life cycle (infant to older American), seafood recipes, seafood downloads
For seafood sustainability:
- Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch – rates seafood based on sustainability. The website allows you to search by species name, harvest method, location and/or rating
- Marine Stewardship Council – a global, science-based nonprofit dedicated to ending overfishing worldwide. Look for the MSC blue fish logo to find certified sustainable, wild-caught seafood that’s good for you and the ocean too
- Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) – ensures aquaculture is done responsibly
through its third-party certification program. Helps ensure safe and ethical sourcing in abundant supply for future generation
Choosing, Prepping and Cooking Seafood
How do you know if seafood is cooked through?
So, how do you know when your seafood is cooked through?
The temperature for cooking fish is 140 degrees, as measured in the thickest part of the filet with a meat thermometer – knowing that the internal temperature will rise a bit to the safe internal temperature of 145 after pulling it off the heating method. But, unlike beef or chicken, with fish, we typically don’t use a thermometer. We will cook until the fish flakes easily when a fork is inserted in the thickest part. A fish filet that is cooked through will lose its translucency and will be more opaque.
For starters, follow the 10-minute rule. Measure or eyeball fish at its thickest section and cook it for 10 minuters per inch of thickness, flipping halfway through cooking time.
All of this being said, there are certain fish that, depending on your preference, you will prefer to undercook. For us, that’s sushi grade salmon (we prefer it slightly undercooked in the center) and sushi grade tuna (if we don’t eat it raw, we’ll sear it). White fish we will always cook through.
- Mussels/clams/oysters will open when they’re done
- Scallops will turn opaque. Do NOT overcook these beauties, opt for slightly undercooking. Take them off heat before they become firm!
- Shrimp will become opaque, firm up and curl
- Lobsters will turn bright red and their antennas will pull out easily. The meat will be opaque and firm
- Crabs will turn bright red, opaque meat
Unlike poultry, with seafood, it’s pretty much always better to undercook than overcook, as seafood becomes very rubbery and chewy.
What is your food philosophy?
Living on Cape Cod, naturally, seafood is a major focus and interest of ours, as is anything locally grown and sourced. We also understand, that our food supply is a global one, so our interest in food expands far beyond New England.
We love learning about food, how it’s grown/harvested/sourced/processed, you name it. We believe that food should be sustainable and healthy for the earth and for our bodies. We think it’s important to know where our food comes from and how it’s grown so that we can choose what we buy and what we feed our families. We want our kids to grow up knowing the same, which is why we have a backyard garden, we belong to a CSA at our local farm and we regularly talk about where food comes from. We also cook with the kids as much as possible. We buy organic food whenever we can, as I can feel better about feeding food that’s grown without traditional pesticides and herbides to my family. Organic food is the choice we make because it’s better for our bodies and it’s better for the earth.
Living on Cape Cod, there is much to learn about the fish and shellfish in our local waters, and we find as many opportunities to learn about them as we can. In our opinion, there’s nothing than traveling down Cape to pick up our scallops from the fisherman that harvested the scallops at the dock next to the fishing vessel. Talk about an experience for the kids – and a lesson on where our food comes from.