You may be familiar with king crab, king salmon, or king oysters, but is there one sea creature that’s really king when it comes to nutritional value? According to Dietary Guidelines, eating one type of seafood over another isn’t the ultimate goal. Rather, it’s the variety and regularity of eating seafood that provide you with nutrition fit for kings. Some seafood is high in those ever-so-precious omega-3s, while others are low in mercury. And of course, the amounts of other essential nutrients found in seafood will depend on the source.
Being mindful of this is key to maximizing your health benefits and decreasing risk of disease. We aren’t all fortunate enough to live near water, so access to fresh seafood may be challenging. And knowledge of how to prepare it is another matter. But we’ve got you covered on nutritional facts when it comes to selecting seafood to eat! Here are seven reasons why it’s wonderful for your diet.
1. Seafood is a great source of protein.
We need protein-packed foods in our diet to help build and repair muscle. These foods tend to be nutrient-dense—meaning they provide a lot of nutrients in fewer calories, which is always a plus. Foods like seafood that have a lot of protein tend to also have other essential nutrients—like zinc, B vitamins, selenium, choline, phosphorus, copper, vitamin D, and vitamin E (which vary in amounts depending on the source).
2. Seafood is a good source of heme iron.
One advantage of consuming protein from animal sources like seafood is the presence of heme iron, which is more bioavailable than non-heme iron present in plant proteins. This means iron, which plays an important role of carrying oxygen in the blood throughout the body, is absorbed better and more quickly from sources like seafood. Oysters, clam, salmon, and tuna contain some of the highest levels of iron in the seafood category. Women may want to pay particular attention to this fact, as they tend to be most commonly at risk of low iron.
3. Eating a variety of seafood is best.
Like the recommendation for fruit and vegetable consumption, eating a varied diet of seafood allows you to get the most exposure to important nutrients. The goal is to maximize your nutrition and minimize your exposure to mercury. Eating a variety of seafood 2-3 times per week in 3-4 ounce servings does just that. If you’re concerned about limiting your exposure to mercury, choose seafood like salmon, shrimp, pollock, tuna, tilapia, catfish, and cod.
4. Seafood consumption is associated with reduced risk of obesity.
Seafood tends to be a lean source of protein, so it’s nutritionally dense and low in fat (depending on the preparation method). Protein is also satiating, leaving you feeling fuller for longer, which helps you maintain a healthy body weight. But the preparation matters. In order to maximize the health benefits, choose wisely and get creative, focusing on something delicious but also low in fat and calories. Pass on heavily breaded fish fries and instead opt for grilled, roasted, broiled, baked or stir-fried seafood. Experiment with spices, herbs, and citrus that add little or no calories but a lot of flavor to complement seafood’s natural taste.
5. Seafood consumption decreases risk of heart disease.
Seafood is high in fats that make the heart healthy. Of these unsaturated fats, seafood is probably most reputable for being a good source of omega 3-s. These are the “good” fats that increase HDL cholesterol, decrease triglyceride levels, and slow the build of plaque which can cause blockages of the heart. Salmon, anchovies, mackerel, sardines, tuna, and oysters are highest in omega-3s, so try to incorporate these into your diet regularly.
6. Seafood consumption results in positive infant health outcomes.
We already know that seafood contributes healthy fats to the diet in the form of omega-3s. It’s the consumption of omega-3s during pregnancy that has been shown to play an important role in the child’s growth and development prior to birth, particularly for the eyes and brain. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should incorporate seafood into their diet regularly, paying close attention to mercury levels (which should be low). Overall, the benefits of consuming some form of seafood outweigh the risks.
7. Seafood isn’t only for the wealthy.
Eating seafood doesn’t have to be fancy and expensive. It can be consumed even by those on a budget. If you’re money conscious, consider canned sources of seafood or buying it in bulk at a wholesale retailer. For more information on how to shop for seafood, check out our Simple Tips For Buying the Best Salmon and Shrimp.
Sources: Seafood Recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines / Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know / Choose My Plate: 10 Tips: Eat Seafood Twice Per Week / What Kind Of Seafood Is High in Iron? / Seafood Nutrition Partnership / Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids