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Seafood encompasses all kinds of underwater animals, including crustaceans (think: shrimps and crabs), mollusks (such as scallops and clams), and so much more. And if you’re wondering, Is seafood healthy? The answer is a resounding yes. Most types of seafood are a great addition to your diet and come with tons of good-for-you vitamins and minerals. © SimpleImages - Getty Images Seafood is a great source of nutrients like protein and omega-3 fatty acids, but eating too much can make you sick. Here's how to choose and cook seafood.
Decades of research support regularly consuming well-sourced seafood of all types, says Erica Zellner, a health coach at Parsley Health in California. However, she points out that many people wonder about the safety of seafood given the state of pollution in our water, overfishing, microplastics (a.k.a. small plastic pieces that are harmful to aquatic life), and more. Some people may stay away from seafood because they don’t know how to cook it, notes Keri Gans, RD, a New York-based nutritionist and author.
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Rest assured, there are a number of ways to safely incorporate seafood into your diet like buying fish sustainably, watching the kind of seafood you eat, preparing it properly, just to name a few.
Here is everything you need to know about seafood and how to get more of it into your diet. (And yup, all of this information is brought to you by food experts, of course.)
What are the benefits of seafood?
Seafood is a great way to up your nutrition game.
It's a great source of protein. Protein is necessary for building and maintaining muscle mass. It's also crucial to building a healthy plate, since it helps keep you full for longer periods of time. If you’re looking for a way to diversify your protein sources, seafood is a great way to go. FYI, for the average adult, the FDA recommends eating at least eight ounces of seafood per week.
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It’s rich in fatty acids. “The number one reason people should be eating seafood is the omega-3 fatty acids,” says Gans. Omega-3s are the good fats that your body does not produce on its own, so you need to get them from food or supplements. Fatty fish like salmon, herring, trout, sardines, are some of the best sources. Omega-3 fatty acids are known to reduce inflammation in the body, which can therefore reduce your risk of heart disease, dementia, and certain types of cancer, Gans explains. Plus, eating cooked fish during pregnancy and while breastfeeding helps your child absorb omega-3s as well, which can support their brain development, per the FDA.
It contains lots of vitamins and minerals that are lacking in the average diet. Introducing more seafood into your meals can help you increase your consumption of vitamin B12, selenium, iron, and zinc, says Zellner. You can also find important nutrients like calcium and vitamin D, in seafood, according to Gans, both of which are important for good bone health. Eating seafood could cover common nutritional gaps, Zellner says, especially in people with diets that are low in nutrients.
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Are there any negatives to eating seafood?
As with any food, you want to make sure you enjoy seafood in moderation. Over-indulging can lead to some negative side effects in some cases.
You might want to eat fried seafood sparingly. “I caution people to avoid fried seafood, such as beer battered fish tacos or fish and chips, as eating fried fish is associated with an elevated risk of lung and prostate cancer,” Zellner says. Fried fish can be a bit less nutritious overall too. However, enjoying fried seafood from time to time isn’t going to harm your health. Just don’t go overboard.
Some seafood is high in mercury. “Mercury levels in seafood depend on several factors, including the age and size of the fish, and the water in which the fish lived,” Zellner explains. While a small amount of mercury won’t have much of an impact on your body, eating too much can cause mercury poisoning. As long as you don’t eat more than the recommended eight ounces per week, you probably won't get sick.
There are some environmental issues associated with eating seafood. Because of all the plastic waste that is put into the ocean each year, fish are ingesting what’s called microplastics, studies show. Microplastics cannot be broken down by the body, so they accumulate in your organs over time. You can avoid this by choosing your fish consciously to limit your exposure. Note this: “The larger the fish, the higher the risk for microplastics, as these predator fish are likely consuming a lot of smaller fish that all contain their own levels of microplastics,” Zellner explains.
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Ultimately, however, “there is no way to eliminate microplastics from an animal once they are present, and there is no source of wild seafood that can guarantee that their products contain no microplastics at all,” she adds.
In addition to microplastics, there’s also the issue of overfishing, which happens when people catch more fish than necessary from the ocean in order to meet demands of the food market. “Marine ecosystems are delicately balanced, and significantly reducing the number of one preferred species can have catastrophic effects on others,” Zellner explains. That’s what makes prioritizing sustainable fishing and fish farming practices critical to protecting existing marine environments.
How can I add seafood to my diet?
Usually people eat very little seafood because they don’t know how to cook it at home. (Among other reasons, such as access to fresh fish!) Here are some ways to add more seafood into your routine, per experts.
- Opt for sustainable fish. If you can, try buying fish that you know is sustainably sourced. Not sure how? Start by using the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch seafood recommendation search tool, which can help you find seafood that’s fished or farmed by environmentally sustainable means.
- Buy frozen. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting your seafood frozen from the store and keeping it in your freezer until you’re ready to eat it, Gans says. Plus, seafood is typically frozen at its peak freshness. It’s also a more economical option since you can purchase it in bulk.
- Avoid fish that are high in mercury. Fish that are highest in mercury include shark, tuna, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel, says Zellner. (And if you’re ever stumped, you can always check out the FDA mercury level guidelines for reference.)
- Go for canned. Canned food can last for multiple years, costs less than the fresh variety, and is a great way to add an extra punch of protein to your salads and sandwiches, says Gans. Pro tip: Mix your canned seafood with a little mayo or Greek yogurt to make a yummy fish salad.
- Toss it in your pastas. Making your grandma’s famous linguine recipe tonight? Great. In that case, Gans recommends sautéing some shrimp in a pan with garlic and oil and tossing it into your pasta dishes. It’ll add more flavor to the meal and give you all the benefits of seafood.
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