When planning your next meal, does seafood come to mind? If not, it may be something to consider. Along with being delicious and easy to prepare, seafood is naturally nutritious. Seafood is high in protein and low in calories and fat, making it a nutrient-dense food. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasize sustaining a healthy weight by incorporating daily exercise and eating a varied, balanced diet.
Following is a list of the ten guidelines designed to help you build a healthy diet and lifestyle:
AIM FOR FITNESS…
- Aim for a healthy weight
- Be physically active each day
BUILD A HEALTHY BASE…
- Let the Pyramid guide manage your food choices
- Choose a variety of grains daily, especially whole grains
- Choose a medley of fruits and veggies daily
- Keep food safe to eat
- Choose a diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol and moderate in total fat
- Choose beverages and foods to reduce your consumption of sugars
- Choose and prepare foods with less salt
- If you drink alcoholic refreshments, do so in moderation
Eating two to three servings of seafood per week will help you achieve these goals. Along with being a good source of protein (~20 grams/3-ounce cooked serving) and low in calories (~190 calories/3-ounce cooked serving), most finfish and shellfish are also low in saturated and total fat (1-5 grams/3-ounce cooked serving). Fish oils naturally contain a high proportion of polyunsaturated fats called omega-3 fatty acids.
Two essential omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Fish and shellfish accumulate these fatty acids by feeding on algae and phytoplankton, which are the primary producers of omega-3 fatty acids (humans cannot synthesize these essential fatty acids, thus are required to obtain them through the diet).
Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Heart Disease
The omega-3 fatty acids have numerous biological roles, many of which are protective against heart disease. They consistently have been shown to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels and reduce platelet aggregation. Omega-3 fatty acids also work directly on the heart muscle wall by electrically stabilizing myocardial membranes, thus reducing the risk of ventricular dysrhythmias and sudden death.
In addition to their protective effects against heart disease, omega-3 fatty acids also reduce autoimmune and inflammatory responses in conditions such as arthritis, asthma, lupus, and multiple sclerosis. In summary, the many biological roles of the omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- Reducing the risk of heart disease
- Lowering blood pressure
- Essential for proper brain and retinal growth in infants
- Improved immune function
- Anti-inflammatory – lessens inflammation and arthritis symptoms
- Maintains myelin (cells shielding the nerves) integrity
Although there are no current dietary recommendations for omega-3 fatty acid intake, as little as two to three 3-ounce servings of seafood per week may have beneficial effects in reducing heart disease risk and arthritis symptoms.
This nutrient is a perfect example of “more is not always better.” Because omega-3 fatty acids affect blood-clotting time, large intakes may produce a bleeding disorder in some people. If you bruise easily, have a bleeding disorder, or are on blood-thinning medicine, consult your physician before consuming increased amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
Fish oil capsules containing omega-3 fatty acids are available in drug and health food stores. However, these supplements are not recommended as a substitution for fish or as a dietary supplement.
Increasing Your Seafood Intake
If seafood is not part of your typical food repertoire, don’t worry! There are some simple ways to increase your seafood consumption:
- Substitute seafood in some of your favorite recipes that call for meat or poultry. You can try adding seafood to pizzas, tacos, enchiladas, or sloppy joes.
- Next time out at your favorite restaurant, ask the staff what seafood selection they recommend. If you like it, ask how it was prepared.
- Ask the attendant at the seafood section of your supermarket what they recommend and what recipes they may have to share.
- Buy a low-fat seafood cookbook. You can also look for recipes on the internet and in your newspaper’s food section.
- Choose seafood that is fresh or fresh/frozen. Seafood should not smell “fishy” if it does; this means it is probably not fresh.
- Do not overcook seafood. You will get the best results with high temperatures and short cooking times. Usually, but not always, 10 minutes per inch of thickness at 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Add seasonings such as dill, basil, no-salt seasonings, barbecue sauce, garlic, and onions.
Remember, seafood is naturally low in fat and cholesterol, easy to prepare, and quite delicious! Include two to three servings of seafood per week as part of your healthful eating plan.