Updated Dietary Guidelines Suggest Shifting to Seafood

In January the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services jointly issued the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Dietary Guidelines is updated every 5 years to reflect the latest in published nutrition science. This report is designed to form the foundation of dietary advice that healthcare professionals share with patients, as well as inform federal nutrition programs, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and the National School Lunch Program.

According to the Dietary Guidelines, nearly half of all Americans have one or more preventable, diet-related chronic diseases, such as heart disease, hypertension and type 2 diabetes. However, small changes in diet and lifestyle can result in weight loss and a reduced risk of developing one of these chronic diseases.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines recognize the importance of these small changes by focusing on healthy eating over a lifetime. Unlike previous editions of the Dietary Guidelines, the most recently updated version focuses on overall eating patterns designed to meet Americans where they currently are as opposed to focusing on individual foods or nutrients in isolation.

It is no surprise that the updated Guidelines recommend Americans eat a variety of vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and limit saturated fat, sodium and added sugars. New to the Dietary Guidelines, however, is the recent recommendation for Americans to eat a variety of protein-rich foods. In fact, the Guidelines go one step further and suggest that individuals shift to more nutrient-dense protein options, like seafood, nuts and seeds, soy and beans.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines are clear that Americans currently eat an adequate amount of protein, but average seafood consumption is well below recommendations in all age and gender categories. Therefore, most individuals don’t need to eat more protein, they just need to eat more of a variety of protein-rich foods. The Guidelines recommend making this shift by “incorporating seafood as the protein foods choice in meals twice per week in place of meat, poultry, or eggs” and suggest choosing a salmon steak or tuna sandwich to increase protein variety.

Seafood also plays a prominent role in two eating patterns that the Guidelines recommend Americans should shift towards. The American-style eating pattern suggests that individuals eat at least two seafood meals (or about 8-12 ounces) every week, while the Mediterranean-style eating pattern—long associated with heart health and longevity—includes even more seafood each week, up to 17 ounces.

Additionally, the 2015 Guidelines also clearly advise pregnant and breastfeeding women to eat at least 2-3 meals (or 8-12 ounces) of a variety of seafood every week. The omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA found in fish help improve baby’s brain development, as well as mom’s heart. The Guidelines also recommend that obstetricians and pediatricians provide guidance on how to make healthy food choices that include seafood.

Decades of research support the recommendations to eat more seafood for heart health, brain development in babies and young children, brain health at all other life stages and bone health, among other health benefits, as well. Seafood is rich in nutrients Americans just don’t get enough of—omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, B vitamins and iron—and low in nutrients Americans do, like saturated fat.

The recently-released Guidelines suggest that—for the first time—federal dietary guidance on seafood is finally catching up to the science. Finally, there is government nutrition advice—for registered dietitians, doctors and policymakers—that recognizes the importance of eating seafood during all life stages, particularly during pregnancy. Perhaps, future seafood advice for healthcare professionals, organizations and consumers will be as clear, concise and science-based.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is available at dietaryguidelines.gov.