Vitamin D Foods: Seafood, and Your Immune System
The 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recently put out a Scientific Report reaffirming the well-established, lifelong benefits of eating seafood—from boosting brain and eye development in babies to supporting heart and brain function and a healthy weight for adults. But, what about vitamin d foods?
Most people know that seafood is good for them (even if they don’t eat the recommended 8-12 ounces or 2-3 servings weekly), but much of the attention understandably focuses on the powerhouse omega-3 oils found in fish, which are especially important for pregnant mothers and their children.
Less widely touted: seafood is one of the few natural sources of vitamin D. The 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s Scientific Report designates vitamin D as a “nutrient of public health concern” because nearly all Americans—94 percent—aren’t getting enough of it. While your body synthesizes vitamin D with the help of sunlight, there are many reasons why some people may be deficient. Individuals who have dark skin, malabsorption issues, are older or live north of Atlanta, GA during the winter months are more likely to be vitamin D deficient.
In addition to sun exposure, we can get vitamin D through the diet. Some foods are “fortified” with vitamin D, meaning it is added during processing. But, some seafood—like salmon, trout and tuna—offer natural levels of vitamin D that may be higher than fortified foods, like cereal.
Vitamin D works with calcium to strengthen bones and enamel. The Committee’s Scientific Report also highlights research showing vitamin D and calcium may work together to reduce the risk of high blood pressure during pregnancy and preterm birth.
There is also emerging science that vitamin D plays a critical role in your immune system.
In fact, a lack of vitamin D is associated with increased susceptibility to infection, as summarized in The BMJ (British Medical Journal) in April:
“One factor that affects immune responses with increased age is reduced serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D), the biomarker used to assess risk of vitamin D deficiency and suboptimal dietary intakes. The seasonality of many viral infections, especially in cold weather in winter, is associated with low 25(OH)D concentrations as a result of limited exposure to sunlight. The metabolism and actions of vitamin D are well known. Vitamin D3 is produced in the skin and plays a key role in the immune systems, the highly complex mechanisms in the body that are designed to help protect people against a host of infectious agents, including bacteria and viruses. People who are self-isolating or unable to go outside into the sunshine, people living in regions impacted by air pollution, people who are malnourished, overweight or obese and those with low baseline 25(OH)D concentrations are likely to have weakened immune systems and functions and be at increased risk of viral infections.”
Recently, researchers have focused on whether vitamin D plays a role in people’s susceptibility to the novel coronavirus.
The Mayo Clinic summarized a University of Chicago study of 489 people which “found that those who had a vitamin D deficiency were more likely to test positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 than people who had normal levels of vitamin D.” Another study observed “high rates of vitamin D deficiency in people with COVID-19 who experienced acute respiratory failure.”
A Boston University School of Medicine study published in PLOS One reported similar findings:
“Hospitalized COVID-19 patients who were vitamin D sufficient, with a blood level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D of at least 30 ng/mL (a measure of vitamin D status), had a significant decreased risk for adverse clinical outcomes including becoming unconscious, hypoxia (body starved for oxygen) and death. In addition, they had lower blood levels of an inflammatory marker (C-reactive protein) and higher blood levels of lymphocytes (a type of immune cell to help fight infection).”
‘This study provides direct evidence that vitamin D sufficiency can reduce the complications, including the cytokine storm (release of too many proteins into the blood too quickly) and ultimately death from COVID-19,’ explained corresponding author Michael F. Holick, PhD, MD, professor of medicine, physiology and biophysics and molecular medicine.”
USA Today notes that although the exact role of vitamin D in immune response is still being determined, it is thought to help turn on certain genes on “to become more efficient at killing pathogens.”
The Advisory Committee’s Scientific Report takes an “all of the above” approach to encouraging adequate intakes of all nutrients, including vitamin D. If you’re looking to get more vitamin D through diet, eating seafood is a no-brainer. Plus, seafood boasts other important nutrients that help reduce inflammation and support a healthy immune system, like protein, omega-3s, vitamins and B, iron, zinc and selenium. It’s no wonder that experts recommend Americans include fish more often as a source of protein on their plates.
It’s also important to remember that a healthy immune system will not prevent a person from getting Covid-19. The CDC recommends wearing a mask, proper handwashing, social distancing and other measures needed to help stop the spread of the virus.
HuffPo’s Latest No-No
In the Huffington Post, a freelance journalist and “brand strategist” offers advice on buying and eating canned tuna which, she says, is “especially relevant…in the age of the coronavirus pandemic’s shelter-in-place mandates.”
Canned tuna has always been a widely available, affordable, and nutrient-packed pantry staple, but given the unique stakes of the moment, it’s even more important than ever that people purporting to offer the public advice that could impact their health do so in a responsible way.
Unfortunately, this piece falls short in a number of areas. Here are the most important:
- The piece misstates government advice on how much seafood you should eat. She quotes a source claiming government experts recommend limiting tuna consumption to six ounces a week. That’s simply false. According to government guidelines, there are no seafood species off-limits to the general U.S. population. In fact, the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans actually recommend eating at least 8-12 ounces (or 2-3 meals) of a variety of seafood each week, and this includes canned tuna.
- It puts the pregnant women—and their babies—at risk by not focusing on science-based recommendations. No sooner does the author misrepresent government advice than she recommends ignoring it all together, in favor of the unqualified and unscientific recommendations of an activist group with an ideological agenda. Even worse, she’s talking specifically to pregnant women, the group that can least afford to outsource decisions that could impact their children’s health to fringe agitators. In the FDA’s official guidance to pregnant women about eating seafood, it lists canned light tuna as a “best choice” and canned white (albacore) tuna and yellowtail tuna as a “good choice.”
- It pushes gimmick brands using myths to scare consumers. The piece recommends consumers worried about mercury buy from “Safe Catch,” a brand premised on the evidence-free assertion that other canned tunas are unsafe. We’ve warned about their tactics before, and consumers shouldn’t get fooled. Safe Catch sells a solution in search of a problem, for a hefty price-tag at a time when many Americans are struggling financially.
- It gives an incomplete story on the nutrition of different kinds of canned and pouched tuna. In repeating the flawed premises of the Safe Catch crowd, the piece ignores some of the nutritional punch that makes other commonly available forms of shelf-stable tuna desirable. For instance, the author never mentions that albacore tuna, which she implies you should avoid because of a higher mercury content (which is still far below the FDA’s threshold for mercury in food), is also higher in omega-3 fatty acids critical to heart, brain, and immune health.
- It makes a public health crisis worse, not better. While the article seems premised on encouraging readers to eat more seafood, the author’s bottom line recommendation—that people limit their consumption to “one can a week”—is well below the scientific and nutritional consensus. In fact, a comprehensive study that considered both the positive health benefits in fish (like omega-3 fatty acids and protein) as well as the theoretical risks (like mercury) overwhelming found the net effect of eating tuna is positive. In fact, the study found pregnant women could eat 164 ounces of canned light tuna per week and 56 ounces of canned albacore tuna per week without any adverse effects. The suggestion that all Americans should limit tuna to 1 can (4 ounces) per week is wholly irresponsible.
Americans already eat dangerously little seafood. Articles like this, that dwell on what to limit and avoid – with no scientific basis – are not going to make that better.
Readers looking for a straight-shooting guide on why canned and pouched tuna is a critical addition to your 2020 pantry should look beyond the Huffington Post. Here’s a good place to start: Everything You Need to Know About Canned Tuna Nutrition.
Can Pregnant Women Eat Tuna?
Can Pregnant Women Eat Tuna?
“Can I eat tuna when I’m pregnant?” is one of the most commonly asked questions by expecting mothers. The short answer: yes. The longer answer: Not only can women eat a variety of seafood—including canned light and white tuna—during pregnancy, but they absolutely should be eating tuna during pregnancy. Missing out on seafood during pregnancy could mean missing out on important nutrients, like omega-3s.
Why Should Pregnant Women Eat Seafood Like Tuna?
Tuna is one of the best sources out there for a healthy fat called omega-3 DHA. Simply put, omega-3 DHA is crucial to baby’s brain and eye development. But that’s not all. Tuna and other seafood are also high in protein, calcium, vitamin D and iron, which help build strong bones and muscles for mother and baby alike.
What Are The Best Kinds of Fish to Eat During Pregnancy?
Canned and pouched tuna are among the top three most popular types of fish in America. That includes both “light” tuna, sometimes called skipjack, and chunk “white” tuna or albacore. Actually, all of the top ten most popular seafood choices among Americans are safe and healthy for expecting mothers. These include widely available options like shrimp, salmon, crab and catfish.
How Much Tuna Should Pregnant Women Eat?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommend eating 2-3 servings of a variety of seafood every week. That’s about 8-12 ounces each week. If that sounds like more than you’re currently eating, the reality is that it probably is. Research shows that most Americans are eating a less than optimal amount of fish. Pregnant women in the U.S. eat less than 2 ounces of seafood weekly. Canned and pouched tuna is a great seafood option because it is an incredibly versatile pantry staple.
Are There Any Kinds of Fish Pregnant Women Should Avoid?
There are only a small number of species of fish that pregnant women should stay away from because of higher mercury levels. They include shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, marlin and orange roughy. Most people rarely or never eat these kinds of fish anyway. Moms-to-be should also steer clear of a large species of tuna called bigeye, commonly found in sushi.
Oh Yeah, What about Sushi During Pregnancy?
Sushi is generally safe to eat during pregnancy as long as it’s made from vegetables and/or cooked seafood. To reduce your risk of getting sick from food during pregnancy, do not eat any raw meats or raw seafood during pregnancy.
What Besides Seafood Should I Be Eating While Pregnant?
Of course, fish is just one—very important—piece of the pregnancy puzzle. The Dietary Guidelines recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding women eat a nutrient-rich diet filled with a variety of whole foods like seafood, vegetables, fruits and whole grains. For more information on how seafood fits into an overall healthy diet for mom and baby, read What To Eat When Pregnant, or The Pregnant Woman’s Guide To Eating Seafood, or visit fishduringpregnancy.com.
Seafood Benefits for Mom
Moms-to-Be: Are You Eating Enough Seafood?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that pregnant women in the U.S. eat less than half a serving of seafood a week. That means most moms-to-be should quadruple the amount of seafood they eat each week to meet the minimum 2 servings recommendation.
Prevent Depression During and After Pregnancy:
Research shows women who eat no seafood during pregnancy are twice as likely to experience depression as those who eat seafood two times a week.i Studies suggest that depressed women have lowered levels of DHA, an important omega-3 found in fish. During pregnancy your developing baby needs a lot of DHA, thus depleting your levels of DHA. To get more DHA, try eating more seafood. ii,iii
Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease:
Keep your heart healthy by eating seafood. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in women in the U.S., with risk factors including diabetes, high blood cholesterol and being overweight.
The good news is that you have the power to help manage your risk factors and protect your heart by including more fish, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, into your diet. Deficiencies in omega-3s are known to increase the risk of dying from heart disease by 36 percent.iv Nutrients found in seafood also decrease blood triglyceride levels and increases HDL (good) cholesterol. v
i</sup >Golding, Jean, et al. “High levels of depressive symptoms in pregnancy with low omega-3 fatty acid intake from fish.” Epidemiology 20 (2009): 598-603.
ii Golding, Jean, et al. “High levels of depressive symptoms in pregnancy with low omega-3 fatty acid intake from fish.” Epidemiology 20 (2009): 598-603.
iii Leung, Brenda and Bonnie Kaplan. “Perinatal Depression: Prevalence, Risks, and the Nutrition Link – A Review of the Literature.” The Journal of the American Dietetic Association 109 (2009): 1566-75.
iv Horn, L. V., PhD, RD., McCoin, M., MPH, RD., Kris-Etherton, P. M., PhD, RD., Burke, F., MS, RD.,Carson, J. A. S., PhD, RD., Champagne, C. M., PhD, RD., Sikand, G., MA, RD. (2008, February). The Evidence for Dietary Prevention and Treatment of Cardiovascular Disease. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 108(2).
v Horn, L. V., PhD, RD., McCoin, M., MPH, RD., Kris-Etherton, P. M., PhD, RD., Burke, F., MS, RD.,Carson, J. A. S., PhD, RD., Champagne, C. M., PhD, RD., Sikand, G., MA, RD. (2008, February). The Evidence for Dietary Prevention and Treatment of Cardiovascular Disease. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 108(2).
Fish during pregnancy helps babies meet milestones
Last night my roommate Sarah cooked a wonderfully creative dinner for Lloyd and I and a handful of other friends. The entre was a reci-free version of oven-steamed salmon over veggies. You can see she simply placed the food in a pan over a dish of water sprinkled with ginger. Atop the salmon is teriyaki sauce and limes. It was so flavorful.
Speaking of seafood super high in omega-3s, today Harvard Medical School released the results of a new study that looked at the effects of eating fish during pregnancy on over 25,000 babies. The results of this HUGE study add to the growing body of evidence that moms-to-be who eat the most fish have babies with the best physical and mental development. This particular study gave babies scores based on achievement of milestones – like looking in the direction of sounds, crawling, and putting words together. Compared with women who ate the least fish, women with the highest fish intake (2 ounces per day on average) had children 25% more likely to have higher developmental scores at 6 months and almost 30% more likely to have higher scores at 18 months.
Eating Fish While Pregnant – Fish Benefits for Baby
Is Your Baby Getting the Right Nutrients?
During pregnancy, you have at least three chances everyday to boost your baby’s health. A recent study found that moms-to-be who ate fish 2 to 3 times a week during pregnancy had babies who reached milestones such as imitating sound, recognizing family and drinking from a cup, more quickly.vi
- At 6 months children of mother’s who ate fish during pregnancy are more likely to sit unsupported and crawl than children of mothers who did not eat fish during pregnancy
- At 9 months children of mothers who ate fish during pregnancy are more likely to be able to climb stairs, drink from a cup, write or draw and put 2 words together than children of mother’s who did not eat fish during pregnancy
Help Your Baby’s Brain Develop:
Omega-3s found in seafood, such as tuna, make up a major part of the brain. So when pregnant and breastfeeding moms eat seafood, it provides an important foundation for their baby’s brain to develop normally. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding moms should eat at least 8 ounces of seafood – that’s two servings – per week to help their baby’s eyes and brain develop.
Increase Omega-3s for Better Eyesight:
Studies also suggest that not having enough DHA, an important omega-3 found in seafood such as tuna, during pregnancy can have a negative effect on a baby’s eye development. Research from the Child and Family Research Institute suggests that women who eat a lot of meat but little fish can be deficient in omega-3s, and their babies did not do as well on eye tests as babies from mothers got plenty of this important nutrient.vii
Help Your Baby Get a Good Night’s Sleep:
Eating seafood increases the amount of essential omega-3s in a mother’s breast milk, which helps nourish developing babies. One study found that babies of mothers with higher DHA levels during pregnancy showed significantly quieter and less active sleep, and less sleep-wake transition than those of mothers with lower DHA levels. In other words, they slept better.viii
Eat Seafood During Breastfeeding for More Benefits:
Eating seafood increases the amount of essential omega-3s in a mother’s breast milk, which helps nourish developing babies. Studies show that children who are breastfed tend to have better eyesight, higher IQ scores and do better in school. These benefits may be due to the high level of omega-3s in breast milk.ix
Did You Know? More than 200,000 women die from heart attacks every year—five times the number of women who die from breast cancer.
vi The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Associations of maternal fish intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding duration with attainment of developmental milestones in early childhood: a study from the Danish National Birth Cohort. Available at:http://www.ajcn.org/content/88/3/789.abstract. Accessed March 5, 2012.
vii The American Journal of Nutrition. Essential n–3 fatty acids in pregnant women and early visual acuity maturation in term infants. Available at: http://www.ajcn.org/content/87/3/548.full?sid=5e4016a6-830a-4856-a5e4-5e3ea7bd1622. Accessed March 5, 2012.
viii PubMed. Maternal consumption of a DHA-containing functional food benefits infant sleep patterning: An early neurodevelopmental measure. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=3.Maternal consumption of a DHA-containing functional food benefits infant sleep patterning: An early neurodevelopmental measure. Early Human Development. Accessed March 5, 2012.
ix The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Associations of maternal fish intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding duration with attainment of developmental milestones in early childhood: a study from the Danish National Birth Cohort. Available at:http://www.ajcn.org/content/88/3/789.abstract. Accessed March 5, 2012.
Fish During Pregnancy
Eating Fish While Pregnant is Recommended
The amount of fish during pregnancy to eat recommended by experts is 12 ounces = About 2–3 servings a week.
Eating Fish While Pregnant: Are You Eating Enough Seafood?
Pregnant women are nowhere close to eating as much seafood as they should. Why? Maybe you’ve heard the wrong information on the news. Maybe something in the paper has you confused. But when you turn to the experts, the advice is really simple and clear.
Eating Fish During Pregnancy
Official Guidelines and Experts Say:
- Eat seafood at least two to three times each week
- Eat a variety of fish
- As much as half (six ounces) of fish each week can be albacore tuna
- The only fish to avoid are shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tile fish
What’s it like to be a seafood lover who’s pregnant?
Well, if that’s you, perfect! Pregnancy is one of the best times to indulge your love of fish. Here’s why:
- Seafood is tasty and craveable
- Studies show eating fish during pregnancy gives moms and babies lots of health benefits
- Seafood is easy to make and a natural “fast food”
Types of Seafood and Fish to Eat While Pregnant
|Most popular types of seafood (3 ounces)||Average mercury level below the FDA limit||Omega-3 DHA fats (milligrams)*|
|Canned White Tuna||Yes||535|
|Canned Light Tuna||Yes||190|
Best Foods to Eat While Pregnant
You are what you eat. And when you’re pregnant, you and your baby are what you eat. Choosing the right foods now can make a big difference in your baby’s growth and health. Aim to eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods. This means foods that are full of vitamins and minerals without being too high in calories. The nutrients below are especially important when you’re pregnant and all can be easily found in foods like fish.
Pregnancy Diet: Powerhouse Nutrients
|OMEGA-3 DHA||CALCIUM||VITAMIN D||IRON|
|WHAT IT IS AND WHY YOU NEED IT||
|HOW MUCH YOU NEED EACH DAY||200 milligrams||1,000 milligrams||200 (+) IU||27 milligrams|
|WHAT YOU SHOULD EAT||
Can You Eat Sushi While Pregnant?
Many pregnant women may be concerned about eating sushi while pregnant. To reduce your chance of getting sick from food, you shouldn’t eat any raw meats during pregnancy.
Sushi is tasty, nutritious and fun; just make sure to stick with cooked types when you’re pregnant.
There are many types of cooked sushi—just look for the ‘cooked’ sticker when shopping in your grocery store or ask your server when dining out.
If you are counting down the days to when you can “go raw,” set a dinner date with your partner for a few weeks after the baby arrives.
Everything You Need to Know About Canned Tuna Nutrition
Top Reasons to Feel Good About Pouched and Canned Tuna Nutrition and Sustainability…
Every year, millions of Americans look to the internet for nutrition advice. While there are thousands of websites devoted to helping folks find healthier, high-quality food, it’s sometimes difficult to separate fact from fiction. Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of canned tuna nutrition. This highly versatile, nutrient-rich source of protein is one of the more misunderstood menu items in America. But don’t let the seemingly endless number of so-called fitness gurus and healthy-living bloggers obscure the science on canned tuna nutrition. Fish, especially tuna, is a highly healthy choice – read on to learn more about what makes it a nutritious option.
Canned Tuna is a Healthy Choice
Years of survey data show that Americans aren’t eating enough seafood, despite the fact that all the scientific evidence, including hundreds of peer-reviewed studies performed by health and nutrition researchers, show its important health benefits. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, for example, urge consumers to eat more fish and recommend tuna as a healthy option. The USDA too recommends that Americans eat at least 2-3 servings of seafood per week. That’s because seafood is rich in important nutrients, such as a vitamins B12 and D, iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium and beneficial omega-3s called EPA and DHA.
Tuna is a particularly good option for families, as the nutrients in this fish are especially important for children. Protein is needed by quickly growing bodies and omega-3s play an essential part in healthy brain and eye development.
Canned Tuna Nutrition Reigns Supreme
Not only is canned tuna healthy, it’s one of the mildest tasting types of seafood, making it many Americans’ first fish from childhood. Canned tuna has a subtle smoky taste and a firm, flaky, and moist texture. Swap in tuna for beef or chicken in your favorite dishes like quesadillas, burgers, and pasta. Click here for a dozen additional easy ways to eat canned tuna.
Keep canned tuna in your pantry to always have a protein boost on hand. To store canned tuna once opened, transfer the unused fish to a reusable plastic or glass container with a lid or plastic bag. It will stay fresh after opening for 1- 2 days in the refrigerator.
What About Mercury in Canned Tuna?
Unfortunately, the most common myths about tuna are pushed by click-bait seeking alarmists, discredited TV gurus like Doctor Oz, and uninformed celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Jeremy Piven. In other words, “fake news.” Their claims are unsourced and unsubstantiated, but they create a climate of fear around seafood that contributes to a much bigger risk than mercury – the risk of missing out on the health benefits of eating fish.
The truth is, there has never been a case of mercury poisoning from normal consumption of commercial seafood recorded in any American medical journal. That’s right, zero cases.
Unfortunately, frequent fear-mongering on this matter has turned people away from a food experts recommend people eat more of, not less – seafood and tuna. According to the FDA’s own extremely conservative analysis of more than 100 scientific studies on seafood, the average person could eat tuna for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the week without worry.
But many Americans aren’t getting that message. The FDA warns that most Americans are eating dangerously low amounts of seafood, a deficiency that contributes to nearly 84,000 preventable deaths each year. Another long-term study showed that children whose mothers had reduced their seafood intake during pregnancy had appreciably lower IQs.
Pushing dangerous health advice to the public may help celebrities explain away their bad behavior, but it makes everyone worse off.
Commitment to Sustainability
The tuna you feed your family isn’t just healthy, it’s sustainably sourced. A recent presentation from “renowned tuna fisheries scientist” Alain Fonteneau of the French Research Institute for Development (IRP) confirms ongoing efforts to manage tuna stocks help make tuna a sustainable fish.
As Fonteneau explained, even as “fishing efforts in most tuna fisheries have grown steadily in recent years. . .these stocks remain in a healthy state and are much less overfished than many other coastal resources…” In fact, none of the world’s 21 major tuna stocks have shown signs of critical collapse.
Skipjack and albacore, which comprise the vast majority of canned tuna in the United States, are particularly sustainable. That’s because the nation’s leading seafood providers recognize the tremendous social and environmental responsibility that comes with meeting global tuna demand. As part of their commitment to sustainability, tuna companies work with organizations like the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) to make sure they’re doing all they can to secure the future of our oceans. This commitment to sustainability means that you can feel good knowing that the tuna you feed your family is and will always be responsibly sourced.
“What’s This ‘Pole and Line’ I Keep Hearing About?”
Many activist groups ignore relevant data and often call for tuna companies to adopt a pole-and-line fishing approach, which they falsely claim will help the environment. It turns out, this method is actually much worse for the environment. A University of California study found that pole and line methods are extremely carbon intensive and use three to four times more fuel. That’s because many more boats are needed to catch the same amount of fish with this inefficient method, using much more fuel and creating higher carbon emissions. Talk about hurting the environment…
Pole and line isn’t just environmentally harmful, it’s an impractical method for meeting global demand. Broad adoption of pole and line would ultimately limit the supply of tuna, raising prices for working families that depend on it as a source of protein and other critical nutrients. That doesn’t seem to faze activists, but it should worry health-conscious consumers.
Despite their embrace of pseudo-science, we’ve made efforts to reach out to these groups, asking them to meet with sustainability experts at the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation to engage in a productive dialogue. Instead, they’re busy wasting millions in donor money desecrating sacred places, dressing up in ridiculous animal costumes, and making music videos. Why should donors and consumers trust anything they have to say?
What Really Motivates These Alarmists?
Despite leading seafood providers’ successful efforts to meet global demand in the most environmentally responsible way, and their commitment to ensuring that global tuna stocks remain healthy, radical activists continue to target the tuna industry with false allegations of environmental irresponsibility that are divorced from scientific reality. Why? Because these efforts can be profitable.
Here’s how it works: Alarmist fundraisers aim to reel-in donor funds by strong arming companies into doing their bidding. They start by making unsubstantiated or false claims about individual company’s environmental records. This “rank and spank” targeting strategy is meant to intimidate companies into seeking out some sort of face-saving compromise that allows activists to claim a victory, which these groups immediate fundraise off. Soon after, these companies learn that there’s no compromise to be found.
In what we’ve come to call the cycle of abuse, the targeted organization reaches an agreement that’s publicized in fundraising appeals, and then the activists inevitably come back—after a few months, or a few years—with a new round of attacks, and demands for even more unreasonable standards. Companies that have bent over backwards to meet increasingly taxing, scientifically dubious demands ultimately realize that they’ll never make these activists happy. As long as there are donations to be sought, they’ll always be a target.
The Truth about Canned Tuna
The truth is, seafood is a staple of a healthy diet, and there are few foods as versatile, delicious, and nutrient-rich as tuna. Americans concerned about the quality and sourcing of their food can sleep well at night knowing that America’s top tuna producers are committed to meeting global demand responsibly.
Tilapia Nutrition + 9 Things You Need to Know About Tilapia
Tilapia Nutrition Facts
Tilapia nutrition is both palpable and palatable. The benefits of eating fish for brain, heart and eye health are well known. Fish provides protein, B vitamins, iron, vitamin D, selenium and healthful omega-3 fatty acids EPA+DHA—all for about 200 calories or less per serving. The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating at least two servings (or 8-12 ounces) of a variety of seafood each week to boost heart and brain health and maintain a healthy weight. Among the top most consumed fish, tilapia is the fourth most consumed seafood in the United States at 1.18 lbs per capita in 2016.
There are many different seafood choices that can effortlessly add up to two servings each week. The top five most popular seafood options in the U.S. are shrimp, salmon, canned tuna, tilapia and pollock. Eating a variety of fish allows your palette to enjoy a variety of different tastes, but also ensures that you derive a variety of health benefits, as well. Your seafood choices can include both oily fish and leaner fish, such as tilapia. While leaner fish contain fewer omega-3s than oily fish, tilapia and catfish (for example) still provide a healthy dose of these heart-healthy omega-3s. In fact, a 3-ounce serving of these fish provides more than 115 mg of EPA+DHA, more than other protein sources like beef, poultry or pork. Tilapia is also low in total and saturated fats and high in protein, an exceptional nutrition combination.
Tilapia nutrition facts (3 oz. serving):
- 110 calories
- 20 g protein
- 115 mg of EPA+DHA
- 2.5 g total fat
- 1 g saturated fat
Tilapia nutrition is not the only benefit when it comes to tilapia fish. For most people, choosing which fish to eat comes down to taste. A mild-tasting fish, tilapia is a great choice for people who are newer to eating seafood. Since it’s a versatile white fish, tilapia pairs perfectly with most kinds of seasonings and sauces and makes a good substitute for chicken in favorite poultry recipes.
Tilapia Nutrition Continued…
While there is some talk about omega-3 fatty acids versus omega-6 fatty acids, even in tilapia, it is important to understand that both of these fatty acids are essential fatty acids. Our bodies do not make either and we need to derive both from our diets. Omega-3s are important for immune function and blood clotting. Omega-6s, on the other hand, tend to promote inflammation, which is in and of itself critical for appropriate healing. Like most nutrients, there is only a problem with omega-6s when they are consumed in excess. In the American diet, there are omega-6s in a lot of different foods, both healthful and unhealthful foods. We should aim to get our omega-6s primarily from whole, nutrient-rich foods like nuts, seeds and tilapia, instead of from processed foods like fast food and packaged snacks like cookies and chips. It’s true that we need to consume a healthful dose of omega-3s in our diet to bring the omega-3 and omega-6 ratio into balance, which is one reason the Dietary Guidelines recommend eating an array of healthful foods—including a variety of seafood 2-3 times each week. A truly versatile fish, tilapia provides loads of other nutrients, including protein and B vitamins.
Debunking The “Bacon” Myth
Tilapia nutrition is simple: tilapia is a healthy and wholesome food. Suggestions that it is nutritionally akin to bacon or doughnuts are misguided and inaccurate. In fact, the history of this misinformation is well documented. In 2008 the Winston Salem Journal reported on a study that supposedly found tilapia wasn’t nutritionally favorable. The study and the reporting on it began to unravel when an international coalition of more than a dozen doctors spoke out to clarify that tilapia fish are low in total and saturated fat, high in protein and clearly part of a healthy diet.
When the original misinformed headlines began popping up, claiming that tilapia was nutritionally akin to bacon, the world-renowned Mayo Clinic even got involved, explaining to consumers that tilapia was not an unhealthy fish at all. In response to the exaggerated reporting on the study Mayo Clinic dietitians wrote, “Does this mean you should give [tilapia] up? No!”
Reputable mainstream news outlets have examined tilapia’s perception challenges, with the bacon hyperbole in mind, and have reported, “its overall fat profile is much better than many animal sources of protein which come with much higher amounts of saturated fat. Tilapia contains only a half gram of saturated fat per 3 ounce serving, compared with 1 gram in chicken breast meat or 8 grams in steak” concluding, “it’s a very nutritious fish.” And recognizing that real independent research reveals, “there’s absolutely no reason to trash tilapia.”
Discrediting PCB Hyperbole
Disreputable websites have also suggested tilapia and other farmed fish have high levels of chemicals called PCBs in them. This is untrue. A Harvard University study finds nine percent of PCBs in the American diet come from consumption of all fish. Twenty percent come from vegetables. No health professional anywhere is suggesting that Americans should eat fewer vegetables in order to avoid PCBs.
Well-informed, independent RDs and MDs from Harvard in Boston to Hanyang in Seoul have been unequivocal; tilapia is healthy and safe.
A Brief History
According to researchers, illustrations from Egyptian tombs suggest tilapia were farmed more than 3,000 years ago. In fact, tilapia may have been one of the first fish species ever farmed. Since that time, tilapia farming has seen explosive growth and ranks as the second most cultivated fish on the planet.
Modern-day aquaculture was revolutionized by a growing world population and demand for seafood coupled with the fact that wild fisheries are at their maximum sustainable yield. Since we can’t sustainably take more from our oceans, we have to rely on aquaculture to increase production. In the last few decades, major strides have been made in the aquaculture community resulting in the most efficient and sustainable farmed seafood products available to markets globally. The idea that fish farming is the “wild west” without robust standards and regulations associated with other types of agriculture is wrong, and demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the industry.
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) looked into sustainability factors of food products and concluded that both wild-caught and farm-raised fish are nutritious, safe and beneficial for optimal health. According to the Washington Post “Tilapia, in short, is an environmentally friendly, lean, low-calorie source of protein. We need all of those we can get.” Currently, about half of all seafood consumed in the U.S. is farmed.
Just like other forms of farming, like land agriculture, aquaculture – specifically tilapia farming – comes in all sizes, from large commercial producers to small backyard ponds. While they all share a few common components, the equipment and methods used are different for each. Tilapia’s hardiness and adaptability to a wide range of culture systems has led to the commercialization of tilapia production in more than 100 countries. According to the director of NOAA Fisheries Aquaculture, it’s hard to find a large volume of U.S. farmed tilapia because the colder climate requires these tropical fish to be grown in expensive indoor tanks. However, countries in places like Asia and Latin America have ideal temperatures and conditions to grow healthy tilapia in an environmentally sound fashion, for an affordable price. The U.S. imports tilapia from countries such as Brazil, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Indonesia, Mexico and more.
Tilapia was one of the first cultivated fish on this planet for a reason. They grow rapidly on formulated feeds with lower protein levels and tolerate higher carbohydrate levels than many carnivorous farmed species (such as salmon). They can also accept feeds with a higher percentage of plant proteins; helping to relieve pressure on fish stocks that contribute to the fishmeal market, the major ingredient in feed for other fish. It’s said that tilapia “don’t ask for much.” They have five basic needs: clean water, oxygen, food, light and room to swim. And, importantly, they grow fast. For more information about tilapia nutrition, tilapia farming and sustainability, check out this comprehensive infographic on tilapia fish.
To get technical, tilapia is an omnivorous grazer that feeds on phytoplankton, periphyton, aquatic plants, small invertebrates, benthic fauna, detritus and bacterial films associated with detritus. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), prepared feeds that provide tilapia a complete diet (adequate protein, lipids, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals) are readily available in developed countries and are also manufactured and available in developing countries with an export market for high quality tilapia products (such as the U.S.).
The ingredients used in tilapia feeds vary depending on the region. The composition and formulation of commercial tilapia feeds is usually proprietary. However, the FAO provides an example of commercial starter feed used for tilapia farmed in Malaysia as an illustration of ingredients and ratios: fishmeal (15 percent), meat meal (5 percent), soybean meal (20 percent), groundnut meal (10 percent), rice bran (10 percent), wheat middlings (15 percent), corn/broken rice/cassava (15 percent), vegetable/fish oil (4 percent), dicalcium phosphate (2 percent), vitamin premix (2 percent) and mineral premix (2 percent).
Making Sense of Tilapia “Poop” Misinformation
The rumor that tilapia are fed pig feces or that they eat their own poop is misguided and perpetuated by clickbait websites hungry for sensational headlines. As detailed in the section above, commercially farmed tilapia are by and large fed pellets that contain their complete diet requirements that differ during each growing stage.
Similar to the “bacon” myth, this rumor started after a 2009 study citied certain challenges regarding a foreign market for fish farming. Among the findings, the study noted that livestock or poultry roamed freely in fields, where farmers used the waste (manure) on fields or in fish feed. It’s important to note the study never mentioned tilapia. According to Fox News, when asked for comment on the study, the authors could not confirm whether it was actually a common practice or an ancillary observation. In fact, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spokeswoman Theresa Eisenman said the agency was “not aware of evidence to support the claim that this practice is occurring.” To be clear, the study never said this was happening at tilapia farms to begin with, and the authors of the study could not confirm that it was happening at all. However, the soundbites on “feces” and “fish feed” were enough to fuel sensational headlines that irresponsible websites continue to peddle today.
The reality is, U.S. restaurants and retailers that sell imported tilapia have sourcing standards that do not tolerate poor product quality. Conversations about feed, food safety, and traceability are common-place in an era where consumers want to know where their food comes from. Tilapia operations globally realize they have fierce competition and U.S. customers will source elsewhere if they are not confident the fish are receiving high-performance feed or in other aspects of the farming. Seafood companies all along the supply chain – importers, distributors, restaurants and retailers – routinely visit foreign suppliers, plus do third-party audits, to ensure and standards are being met. Additionally, a majority of large retailers and restaurants only source from tilapia farms and processing facilities that are certified, which among many other farming aspects, evaluates feed.
The vast majority of tilapia eaten in the U.S. come from farms that adhere to rigorous requirements that take into account food safety, environment and community issues, feed, the use of veterinary drugs, traceability, and more. Certified tilapia farms and processing facilities are inspected routinely to ensure they meet these requirements, and are committed to the health of the fish they raise, the consumers who eat them, and the environment.
The leading third-party certification programs used for tilapia sold in the U.S. include Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) certification, which is administered by the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA), and ASC certification which is managed by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC). There are currently 98 BAP-certified farms and 74 BAP-certified processing plants worldwide, which produce a mammoth, 230,000 metric tons of tilapia every year. All major retailers in the U.S. including Walmart, Wholefoods, and Target sell certified tilapia.
Eat Seafood to Improve Your Heart Health
Two recent scientific reports, based on a comprehensive review of published science, recommend that the general population increase the amount of seafood they eat to a minimum of two times per week. Seafood is nutrient-rich, meaning it packs healthy nutrients like omega-3s and protein into less than a couple hundred calories per 4-ounce serving.
Seafood Benefits for Adults
- Reduces Risk for Heart Disease
- Helps Maintain Brain Health
Seafood and Heart Disease
How to Protect Your Heart Health
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in men and women in the U.S., with risk factors including diabetes, high blood cholesterol and being overweight. The good news is that you have the power to help manage these risk factors and lower your risk for heart disease by eating at least two servings of seafood a week. Low consumption of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish is the second-biggest dietary contributor to preventable deaths in the United States, taking a total of 84,000 lives each year.i In fact, eating seafood just twice a week can reduce the risk of fatal heart attack by 36 percent!ii By eating seafood, you get the essential nutrients that can help protect you against heart attacks, decrease blood triglyceride levels and increase HDL (good) cholesterol.
Did You Know?
Women are particularly at risk for heart disease, with more women dying of heart disease than men each year. In fact, more than 200,000 women die from heart attacks every year—five times the number of women who die from breast cancer.iii
Besides providing healthy omega-3s, another important nutrient provided by seafood is protein. However, all protein sources aren’t alike. Many high protein foods also happen to have a lot of unhealthy saturated fat and cholesterol. So when choosing which foods to eat, consider a low-calorie option such as tuna. One serving of protein-rich canned or pouch tuna is lower in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol than an equal serving of beef, pork, chicken or lamb.
iDanaei, Goodarz, et al. “The Preventable Causes of Death in the united states: Comparative risk Assessment of Dietary, Lifestyle, and metabolic risk factors.” Plos medicine 6 (2009).
ii Horn, L. V., PhD, RD., McCoin, M., MPH, RD., Kris-Etherton, P. M., PhD, RD., Burke, F., MS, RD.,Carson, J. A. S., PhD, RD., Champagne, C. M., PhD, RD., Sikand, G., MA, RD. (2008, February). The Evidence for Dietary Prevention and Treatment of Cardiovascular Disease. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 108(2).
iiiLloyd-Jones D, Adams R, Brown T,. et al. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2010 Update: A Report from the American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcomittee. Circulation. 2010; 121:e1-e170