Seafood, a healthy choice in more ways than one

By Andy Gray, Trade Marketing Manager, Seafish

As well as offering a great variety of different flavours, textures and enjoyable eating experiences, the regular consumption of fish and shellfish can help to keep you in good health.

Many experts recommend that we should try to eat at least two portions of seafood a week – but why is it so good for us? Seafood is a ‘health-food’ in more ways than one; first and foremost, it’s jam-packed with nutrients, vitamins and minerals that help to keep our bodies in great shape. Seafood is well-known as an excellent source of Omega-3, a very important fatty acid that the human body can’t produce on its own.

Secondly, seafood is low in calories and high in protein. This makes it the perfect food for dieters; high levels of protein keep you feeling fuller for longer, without the extra calories. Studies have even shown that people who eat seafood regularly are, on average, slimmer than people who don’t.

What is in seafood?

Seafood is a great source of certain vitamins and minerals which perform very important functions within the body. Oil-rich fish such as mackerel, herring and sardines are a great source of vitamins A and D, which are important in the growth and development of children. Whitefish such as cod, haddock and hake are a good source of B vitamins, and all seafood is an excellent source of minerals including potassium, selenium, zinc and iodine. Iodine is needed for our thyroid glands and brains, while zinc keeps us in good reproductive health, and selenium is believed can actually help to protect us from cancer.

Seafood is also an excellent source of protein, and also contains small amounts of ‘good’ fats. Protein-rich fish and shellfish can help to nourish your muscles, as well as warding off colds and flu. Foods with high protein contents tend to be low in calories while keeping us feeling ‘fuller’ for longer.

Despite being so high in minerals, seafood is very low in salt and sodium. Most of us eat too much sodium, which has been linked to high blood pressure, strokes and heart disease. Swapping a ready meal that’s high in sodium for an easily prepared seafood dish can help you to lower your salt intake and boost your health.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that shellfish contains dietary cholesterol. However, saturated fats (which seafood is low in) are much more responsible in causing high blood cholesterol levels than dietary cholesterol, which needn’t be avoided unless you suffer from a genetic condition called Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH) or Familial Combined Hyperlipidaemia (FCH).

Certain fish species such as mackerel/herring/salmon/sardines are high in long-chain Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Omega-3 comes from the family of ‘good’ fats that are not only beneficial for health but are essential in the diet. These fats cannot be made by the body, so a dietary supply is essential.

Seafood is now widely recognised as the best, natural source of Omega-3 oils, the long-chain fatty acids which are beneficial for heart health. Further studies have revealed it is also necessary for brain development, joint function and healthy skin – in fact, for every cell in our bodies. The results reveal that species which have not traditionally been thought of as oil-rich have emerged as valuable sources, and this is particularly good news for those who are not keen on stronger-tasting fish. They are also significant because they show that consumers concerned about the sustainability or provenance of a particular species have far more options than previously thought, if they want to protect their hearts from damage.

For more seafood hints, tips and recipes visit www.seafish.org

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