The American Heart Association recommends consuming fish at least twice per week, while the Dietary Guidelines for Americans calls for weekly consumption of about 8 ounces of a variety of seafood. At a quick glance this guidance seems aligned, but considering it more deeply, it’s important to note the use of fish versus seafood. Is this simply a different choice of words or an intentional, but significant nuance in the guidance? As you may assume, food policy isn’t written on the fly and goes through many revisions before being shared with the public. That being said, does it matter if we aim to regularly consume fish (fatty fish specifically) or seafood in general?
This helpful chart highlights the amount of EPA + DHA found in commonly consumed portions of fish and seafood. While it’s important to note that there are many factors that impact the exact amount of these essential fats found in our fish and seafood, this chart makes clear what the best sources are and points to variations in farmed vs. wild, canned vs. fresh, and more. It also illustrates that our fish is a better source of our essential (heart healthy) omega fats than our seafood, which supports the American Heart Association guidance.
Protein & Calories
Fish and seafood are a good source of low-calorie protein and should be part of our regular diet. For individuals seeking satiating protein that fits within a healthy lifestyle (and to benefit further from their muscle-building workout), fish and seafood should be a go-to. It makes sense then that the Dietary Guidelines recommend a variety of fish and seafood choices as part of regular diet.
This chart from the FDA summarizes the best choices for limiting exposure to mercury. Large fish (king mackerel, shark, swordfish) contain high levels of mercury and should be avoided, while smaller fish (salmon, shrimp, canned light tuna, pollock) can be consumed regularly. Indeed, when it comes to limiting exposure to mercury, a variety of fish and seafood choices are best.
Fish and seafood make up two of the top eight allergens that account for 90% of the food allergies in the United States. An allergy to seafood may mean an allergy to fish, shellfish or crustaceans (crab, lobster), but not necessarily an allergy to all three. If you live with an allergy to fish or seafood, take precautions to avoid your allergen, limit potential for exposure, and ask questions to ensure that combination dishes are safe for you.
Protecting our seas is critical to our future. We need the vast resources of our oceans as changes to our climate and land impact farming. That said we need to engage in sustainable fishing practices to preserve our seas too. As consumers we should seek sustainable seafood choices, learn about and aquaculture, and support fisheries that are engaging in safe practices to maintain our fish supply.