Seafood Benefits for Older Adults
What Can Seafood Do For You?
Staying healthy as you age is important. There are nutrients you need in order to keep yourself in the best possible health. Eating protective foods that contain beneficial omega-3s, like seafood, can help you from head to toe.
Seafood Benefits for Boomers+
- Improves Heart Health
- Protects Eyesight
- Maintains Bone and Joint Health
Improve Your Heart Health
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in men and women in the U.S., with risk factors including age (starting at 55), diabetes, high blood cholesterol and being overweight. While you can’t control your age, the good news is that you do have the power to help manage some of the other risk factors. Studies show you can help control dietary risk factors and protect your heart by eating more fish, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Deficiencies in omega-3s are known to increase the risk of heart disease such as heart attack or stroke. Start taking control of your heart health at your next meal – it can be as easy as adding a can of tuna to your salad!
Fight Alzheimer’s Disease
The nutrients found in seafood are important to your brain health. Studies have suggested that seafood nutrients, such as omega-3s, may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline.ii The Alzheimer’s Association recommends that people should eat more fish high in omega-3s, such as tuna.
Protect Your Sight
Seafood may also help reduce the risk of chronic eye conditions, including macular degeneration. The American Optometric Associations says that eating omega-3s from sources like tuna or salmon is “linked to healthy eyes and may reduce risk of some chronic eye conditions.”iii
Maintain Your Joint Health
Nutrients found in seafood may help to relieve symptoms such as inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis. The Arthritis Association reports, “adding about two 3-ounce servings of seafood to your menu each week is a good way to increase your levels of omega-3s and help decrease the body’s inflammatory reaction.”iv
Keep Your Bones Strong
Eating the recommended amount of seafood may help protect against bone loss. One study suggests that the combination of nutrients found in seafood – particularly the omega-3s, DHA and EPA – can help you maintain your bone density.v This is particularly important for those concerned about osteoporosis. So take control of your heart health – it’s as easy as eating 2 or 3 seafood meals each week!
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
Did you know that taking a fish oil supplement is not the same as eating fish? While supplements provide omega-3s, they do not provide the other healthy nutrients found in fish. To get the most health benefits, eat seafood, such as canned or pouch tuna, at least 2 times per week.
Find easy recipes here.
iLloyd-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
ii Alzheimer’s Association. Adopt a Brain-Healthy Diet. Available at: http://www.alz.org/we_can_help_adopt_a_brain_healthy_diet.asp. Accessed March 5, 2012.
iii American Optometric Association. Nutrients for Eye Health. Available at: http://www.aoa.org/documents/Nutrients-for-Eye-Health-Patient-Handout.pdf. Accessed March 5, 2012.
iv Arthritis Today. Fish May Reduce Inflammation. Available at: http://www.arthritistoday.org/nutrition-and-weight-loss/healthy-eating/food-and-inflammation/fish-inflammation.php. Accessed March 5, 2012.
v Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 May;93(5):1142-51. Epub 2011 Mar 2. Protective effects of fish intake and interactive effects of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid intakes on hip bone mineral density in older adults: the Framingham Osteoporosis Study.
Seafood Benefits for Children
Seafood Sets Kids Up for a Lifetime of Health
Seafood is a great source of protein, which helps the body repair and make new cells. This is especially important during childhood and adolescence, when a child is growing a lot. Protein also helps a child’s body produce antibodies that help battle infections. Children would be much more susceptible to serious diseases without essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein).i
Seafood Benefits for Children
- Promotes Healthy Eating Habits
- Provides Essential Nutrients for Growth
When Do I Start Feeding My Child Fish?
Pediatricians recommend introducing solid foods, including seafood, into a child’s diet around 4-6 months. While some may suggest certain parents wait until after the first year of life to give fish, eggs, peanuts and other common allergens to a child, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that there is no need to delay the introduction of these foods past 4-6 months. The AAP suggests giving your baby one new food at a time, and waiting a few days to watch for any allergic reactions before introducing another.ii
Only 10% of Children in the U.S. Eat Enough Seafood
The World Health Organization states that healthy eating habits, including fish early on, help create good habits later in life. The Dietary Guidelines say children should eat two servings of seafood each week in age-appropriate portions to match their calorie needs.
To get your kids to go fish, try these easy tips:
- Make-over Mom and Dad’s Mealtime Mind-set
- Teach your kids to look forward to eating, to anticipate with pleasure the meal to come. Tell them how much they are going to love their food, as opposed to asking questions like “do you like that?”
- Make one Meal
- For lunches and dinners, make one tasty meal for everyone to eat. This saves time and money while ensuring kids get the same flavorful, wholesome meal as adults.
- Entice Tots’ Taste Buds
- Use new spices and ingredients to help develop your child’s palate. Working new flavors in to a familiar food – like capers in to canned tuna – is a good way to introduce an exciting taste.
Get tasty, quick seafood recipes the whole family will love here.
Think beyond lunch and dinner to meet the goal of seafood twice a week. Whip up a bowl of tuna salad as a dip with whole-grain crackers for an afterschool snack, for example.
i American Academy of Pediatrics. Making Healthy Food Choices. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/gradeschool/nutrition/pages/Making-Healthy-Food-Choices.aspx. Accessed February 24, 2012.
ii American Academy of Pediatrics. Switching To Solid Foods. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/feeding-nutrition/Pages/Switching-To-Solid-Foods.aspx. Accessed February 24, 2012.
Seafood Benefits for Adults
Eat Seafood to Improve Your Health
Fight Depression and Accelerated Brain Aging
The omega-3s found in seafood are a key component of a brain-healthy diet. Studies have shown that people who don’t have enough omega-3s are more likely to develop depression. And, for those who have depression, studies have shown that the omega-3s, which are found in seafood, can improve the symptoms.iv
Additionally, researchers recently looked at late middle aged adults without dementia to see how the levels of omega-3s in their blood are related to signs of future dementia. Adults with the lowest amount of the fish-based omega-3, DHA, in their blood had smaller brain volumes and poorer performance in tests of visual memory; abstract thinking; and planning, organization, and carrying out of tasks than adults with higher DHA levels. The smaller brain volume from low omega-3 levels speeds up brain aging by about two years. So take control of your heart health – it’s as easy as eating 2 or 3 seafood meals each week!
Eating seafood also improves heart health and reduces risk for heart disease. Learn more about seafood and heart health.
Seafood During Pregnancy Benefits
Healthy Choices for Mom & Baby
Eat At Least 2 Servings of Seafood per Week to Boost Babies’ Brain Development
Choosing the right foods during pregnancy can make a big difference in your baby’s health and growth. Seafood is an essential part of a healthy diet for you and your unborn child or breastfed baby. The recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend pregnant and breastfeeding women eat 2 to 3 servings of seafood per week to improve babies’ eye and brain development. It is so important that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest pregnant and breastfeeding women should eat no less than 8 ounces (2 servings) of seafood each week.
To get the recommended amounts and the health benefits, eat a variety of seafood, which can include all types of tuna – white (albacore) and light canned tuna. Pregnant women can eat up to 6 ounces of white (albacore) tuna per week.
There are only four fish to avoid during pregnancy and breastfeeding; shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. Most women in the U.S. already do not eat these types of seafood. If you are not pregnant or breastfeeding, there are no types of commercial seafood to avoid.
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.
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
iv PubMed. The efficacy of omega-3 supplementation for major depression: a randomized controlled trial. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20584525. Accessed March 6, 2012.
Healthy Fish Make Waves On NBC
NBC News is taking aim at nutrition misinformation and Rima Kleiner from the Dish on Fish serves as the expert resource who helps the site separate fact from fiction. The answer? Healthy fish.
Healthy Fish Is Part of the Wholesome Answer
In “5 Myths About Quitting Sugar, Debunked,” Rima notes, “the easiest way to keep added sugar intake low is to choose minimally processed whole foods, like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seafood, beans, nuts and seeds.” As part of the “Better – Diet & Fitness” tab, NBC helps readers navigate food fables and not surprisingly healthy fish is part of the wholesome answer when it comes to avoiding too much sugar.
Dietary Guidelines Help Provide a Roadmap
Rima helps readers navigate sugar issues with help from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, that notes less than 10 percent of total daily calories should come from added sugars.
Subtract Sugar by adding Seafood
Rima suggests people stop focusing on things they think they need to remove from their diet and focus, instead, on things they can add to their diet: “The easiest way to keep added sugar intake low is to choose minimally processed whole foods, like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seafood, beans, nuts and seeds,” says Kleiner. “If a client wants to go ‘no-sugar,’ I typically recommend that they focus on eating a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods and low in packaged or convenience foods. It may sound cliché, but think about it: A diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods is inherently going to be full of nutrient-dense foods, like vegetables, fruits, whole and ancient grains, seafood, beans, eggs, nuts and seeds. Simply put, I recommend following a Mediterranean-style diet if you want to avoid foods with added sugars.”
Confusing messaging illustrates that nutrition questions abound. But more often than not the simple answer is healthy fish.
USDA: Americans Need to Eat More Seafood
This week, the USDA Economic Research Service published an article about seafood that tells an all too familiar tale, “Americans’ Seafood Consumption Below Recommendations.”
The article highlights seafood as a nutrient-dense source of protein, low in calories and saturated fat, and rich in key vitamins and nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA.
The USDA’s 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that Americans eat a variety of protein food, including at least 2 servings of seafood per week, as part of a healthy eating pattern. Consumption data shows that most Americans are eating enough protein in general, but they’re not eating enough seafood.
The chart below illustrates that just 5% of the protein foods Americans ate in 2014 consisted of seafood, while the recommendation is 20%:
At a time when Americans are told to limit so many foods, seafood is among the handful of foods Americans are encouraged to eat more often, and the information in this article helps illustrate why. Plus, adding seafood into a meal plan just twice each week is not a difficult feat. Visit DishOnFish.com for recipe ideas and preparation tips. It’s time Americans #ShiftToFish.
Nutritionist Beware: Risk Based Studies Confuse Consumers on Seafood Advice
Whenever a new scientific study is released, the press immediately searches for the headline. But too often that means oversimplifying or overemphasizing the most provocative results while ignoring the messy and complex evidence beneath.
Take the recent study funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). It concludes that the neurocognitive benefits of aerobic exercise may be blunted by high levels of mercury exposure. In fact, more than 90 percent of the participants in the study were exposed to levels of methylmercury above EPA limit of 5.8 mcg/L.
To a lay reader in the U.S., that might sound alarming. But it’s important to look beyond the headline. In this case, the research population came entirely from the Faroe Islands, located 200 miles north of England, where high-mercury whale meat is a major component of the diet.
But Americans—who eat far less fish, and virtually no whale meat to speak of! —have average levels of mercury far below the study population’s, and well within EPA recommended limits. So the study is of limited use. Especially since it doesn’t detail what other types of fish the test population were eating, or how much.
The NIEHS press release does wisely cite the FDA draft advice for pregnant women and children on recommended levels of seafood consumption. This advice is in turn based on the FDA’s 2014 Net Effects report, which looked at over 100 scientific studies analyzing both the risks and the rewards of seafood consumption.
By contrast, the NIEHS study focuses solely on risks, without considering the rewards. That’s fine as a piece of research, but less helpful in informing life decisions. It’s like a study about whether you should buy a car that focuses only on auto accidents.
In the case of seafood consumption, the science is abundantly clear: the health benefits of eating fish greatly outweigh any hypothetical risks. The Omega-3 fatty acids contained in fish are essential for healthy brain and eye development, and long-term cardiovascular health. One long-term NIH study showed that children whose moms cut back on seafood during pregnancy had significantly lower developmental and IQ outcomes.
That’s why following the 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans—which recommend eating more fish than most Americans currently do—is so critical. Pregnant women should have two to three servings of fish a week, while avoiding four fish high in mercury: tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel.
Rima Kleiner, MS, RD
National Fisheries Institute
How to Give Positive Seafood Sustainability Advice
Last weekend University of Washington fisheries expert Dr. Ray Hilborn and I chatted with registered dietitians at the 2016 Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition (SCAN) Symposium: Prescriptions for Sustainable Health, Performance and Practice in – the land of sustainable living – Portland, OR about how to incorporate seafood sustainability science into nutrition advice.
Dietitians and the families they work with are used to the old good fish/bad fish list approach to the topic of seafood sustainability. But Dr. Hilborn, who literally wrote the book on the evolution of marine conservation, made the following points that call into question a prescriptive green fish/red fish approach:
- Fish lists are subjective and only consider the very specific issue of marine impacts. For example, skipjack tuna is plentiful, but shows up on both the green and red list of this fish card depending on how it’s caught (poll vs. net). Net gets dinged because of bycatch, but what isn’t mentioned is the increased carbon footprint of poll fishing. The bottom line is that there are trade-offs, and growing/harvesting ANY type of food makes some environmental mark.
- Seafood is one of the most sustainable food choices, relatively speaking. Sometimes we forget that people have to eat something, and seafood has among the lowest overall environmental costs compared to other types of food.
So if the lists are no good, what are some sound resources for seafood sustainability advice? I shared the following ideas for people who simply want to ensure their food choices are good for themselves and the environment:
- NOAA Fish Watch – This site features science-based, well-rounded profiles of all different species of fish including information on the population, fishing rate, and habitat impacts as well as taste, texture, and health benefits.
- Grocery stores and restaurants – Many retailers have seafood sustainability policies ensuring every type of fish within their store meets standards for sustainability.
- 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report – The DGAC brought in expert marine science consultants and made three conclusions related to seafood sustainability.
Eat a wide variety of seafood. Whether wild-caught or farmed, most species of fish have about the same amount of omega-3s.
The recommendation to eat seafood at least twice each week could likely be met with continued careful fishing of wild seafood and increased amounts of farm-raised fish.
Both farmed and wild-caught seafood are safe and healthy choices.
Seafood has such a promising story from both a nutrition and sustainability standpoint. I loved this opportunity to talk with fellow dietitians about this often confusing topic and look forward to continuing the conversation.
Nutrition Headline Knee-slappers
According to this week’s nonsensical nutrition headlines, vegetable oils and tuna are out to get you.
First up, a recent study by Cornell, published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, indirectly linked vegetable oils to heart disease and cancer and directly linked the researchers’ names to outrageous headlines including, “Being a vegetarian could kill you, science warns.” For some important context, the researchers didn’t measure the kinds of oils consumed or increased health problems among the population studied. More details on the convoluted path to the comical headlines is available here.
This next one isn’t even a published study. Now all it takes is a grad school dissertation to result in the headline, “Eating too much tuna may increase risk of breast cancer.” Here’s the left out details:
- This report includes no primary data. Rather, it looks solely at associations (canned tuna consumption, blood mercury levels, and breast cancer incidence) within secondary data not originally designed for this purpose.
- The results from this report are unable to provide any evidence of causation.
- Known risk factors for breast cancer – namely family history and genetic predisposition – were not considered.
- The role of omega-3s, which canned tuna is a leading source of in the U.S., and which have been linked to decreased risk of cancer, were not considered.
- The actual source of mercury in the data reviewed for the report is unknown.
- The average levels of mercury in canned tuna in the data reviewed for the report consistently fall below the FDA level of concern (1.0 ppm).
- According to this report, smoking and increased BMI decreased odds of breast cancer, showing the shortcomings of this methodology.
For science-based information on fish and cancer risk, see these takeaways from the reputable, authoritative organization, the American Institute for Cancer Research.
Fish and Cancer Risk: 4 Things You Need to Know
You probably know that fish is part of a healthy diet. Fish — and its healthy fats — are well recognized for their heart health benefits. But research on the role that fish may play in cancer protection is less clear. And if you’re one of the many Americans who enjoys fish, there’s a good chance you also have concerns about its possible contaminants.
When it comes to cancer risk and overall health, here are the fish basics.
1. Nutrition Treasure
Any given serving of fish is packed with protein, and contains B vitamins and minerals including potassium and selenium. One serving (3-ounces) contains from 80 (lean fish like cod) to 150 calories (fattier fish, like salmon).
Higher fat fishes with their omega-3 fatty acids are the ones most linked to heart health benefits. Omega-3 fats are found in fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake and rainbow trout, sardines and albacore tuna.
2. Fish and Cancer Risk
AICR’s new report on liver cancer reveals hints that eating fish may protect against this cancer, although the evidence was not strong enough to form a conclusion. Some population studies have also linked higher fish consumption with reduced risk of other cancers, including colon and breast.
In lab studies, the omega 3-fats of fish are well researched. The major omega-3 fats in fish oil are called DHA(docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA(eicosapentaenoic acid). Lab studies have suggested these fats alter colon cell function and may cut down on inflammation.
But when it comes to fish itself linking to reducing cancer risk, more research is needed.
Although fish oil is a popular dietary supplement, for people with no heart disease, the American Heart Association says getting omega-3 fatty acids through foods is best. For cancer protection, AICR recommends that people do not rely on supplements.
3. Health Trumps Contaminants (with caveats)
Almost all fish and shellfish come with at least some contaminants, accumulated in waters with pollutants and pesticides. For most people eating a variety of fish, either farmed or wild-caught, the levels of contaminants are too small to cause harm, according to government guidelines. The 2010 US Dietary Guidelines general recommendation for American adults is to eat about 2 servings (approximately 8 ounces cooked) of a variety of fish and seafood per week.
Some people, including children, breastfeeding women and women who are or who could become pregnant, should steer away from certain types of fish. One toxin of concern is mercury, a heavy metal that can harm an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system if enough is consumed. Large fish that live the longest, such as sharks and swordfish, contain the highest amounts. For the specific recommendations visit the EPA’s What You Need to Know about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish. Another good resource on fish selection is the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.
4. Fish – One Part of the Whole
Again and again, research shows that people eating diets with a moderate amount of seafood have lower risk of cancer and other chronic diseases and longer lives.
This could be due to other parts of the diet. For example, if you’re eating more fish for dinner, you may be eating less red and processed meats, which increase colorectal cancer risk. Fish is a staple of several dietary patterns also linked to lower cancer risk, such as the Mediterranean diet. People eating a Mediterranean diet are also eating plenty of beans, whole grains, vegetables and other plant foods, which all play a role in reducing cancer risk.
These healthy fish-containing dietary patterns are also low on sugary foods and drinks and refined grains. Taken together, these diets high in plant foods, moderate in fish and seafood and low in sugar can help people stay a healthy weight. Overweight and obesity is now linked to increased risk of 10 cancers, including postmenopausal breast, liver and colorectal.
For delicious fish and seafood recipes, check out AICR’s Healthy Recipes.
Additional facts about breast cancer prevention are available here.
We have one food rule in our house: Dinner must be simple.
And, this is one reason why we eat seafood at least twice a week for dinner. Fish cooks so quickly and rarely needs fancy or gourmet embellishment.
I love this salmon dish. It literally takes less than 20 minutes to cook, from start to finish.
While the grill was preheating, we mixed together whatever dried herbs and spices we had on hand–this one was a mixture of sea salt, black pepper, fennel seeds, chili powder, paprikar, mustard seeds and tarragon. After drizzling a little olive oil on both sides of the salmon, we patted the herb-spice mixture on the top of the fillets and grilled for about 3-4 minutes each side, until cooked through. Seriously, the roasted broccoli and cauliflower and the baked sweet potato tots took longer to cook than the salmon.
The result? A delicious herb-encrusted salmon that paired perfectly with the veggies. Such a simple way to eat the MyPlate way!
TELL US: What are your favorite herbs and spices to use on seafood? Please share with us. We’d love to hear from you!
Posted by Rima Kleiner, MS, RD
Breaded Cod Burritos
This Breaded Cod Burrito is a total food fix. I was actually craving a Mexican restaurant burrito, complete with gooey refried beans and cheese.
But, there were a few things that kept me from my Mexican burrito. I was working from my home office, and there was no time to run out for lunch. So, I did what any hungry person at home does… open my refrigerator and [sigh] stare at the contents, hoping something delicious will magically appear. And, it did.
After I noticed the leftover breaded cod my husband had made the night before, I grabbed a whole wheat tortilla, some sweet bell peppers and an avocado. A leftover fish burrito and a mixed greens salad later, I was happily chomping away. Sure, it wasn’t the gooey refried bean and cheesy burrito I had in mind, but it was so much better, fresher and more nutritious. Plus, it was such a tasty way to sneak more fish and veggies into my day.
TELL US: How do you sneak in some extra omega-3s into your week? Please share. We’d love to hear from you!
Posted by Rima Kleiner, MS, RD