Ask anyone about eating healthy and the topic of seafood is sure to come up. It’s got that top-of-mind awarenessâ€”we can all rattle off the words â€˜less fat, healthy oils, omega 3’s.â€™
But how many of us really know what that means?
Let’s start with the premise that we should eat more fish. It’s true. Eating fatty fish such as salmon can help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression and other common medical problems. Certain fish are a good source of calcium and eating fish can help normalize cholesterol levels. What’s not to love?
Whether it’s because of the health benefits, or simply because it tastes great, seafood of all sorts is a popular menu item in restaurants, with 26% of all dinner dishes containing seafood of some sortâ€”making it the most ordered item for the evening meal. In recent years, salmon has appeared more frequently on the menu than in the past, which perhaps shows that people are getting the message about those heart-healthy omega-3’s.
The benefit of eating oily fish is directly tied to the prevention of coronary heart disease. It has become commonly known that eating this type of fishâ€”salmon, mackerel, tuna, kippered herring, sardines and pilchard, for exampleâ€”may help reduce triglycerides (fatty substances in the blood) and prevent clots from forming in the arteries.
According to the 2009 International Food Information Council (IFIC) Functional Foods/Foods for Health Consumer Trending Survey, the top â€˜functional foodsâ€™ named by consumers are:
1) fruits and vegetables and
2) fish, fish oil, and seafood.
Results further showed that 89% of Americans agree that certain foods have benefits that go beyond basic nutrition, and may reduce the risk of disease or other health concerns.â€˜This year’s survey findings show us that Americans are making the connection that foods can play an important role in achieving optimal health,â€™ said Elizabeth Rahavi, associate director of wellness at IFIC. â€˜Consumers’ awareness of many food and health relationships has reached an all-time high.â€™
For the greatest health benefits, eat fish two-three times per week and make sure at least one of those times it’s an â€˜oilyâ€™ fish. Click here for a list of fish you may find on the menu that have the omega-3 oils.
Besides the oily fish, go for white fish such as cod and flounder, which are low in saturated fat and high in protein. And, look for fish such as haddock, which is a good source of vitamin A, an antioxidant that can protect the heart from damage. Tuna, which is part of the mackerel family, is also high in the B vitamins such as niacin and thiamin.
Popular shellfish have similar nutrients to the white fish, and some levels of omega-3. Given a choice, go for crab and mussels. Shellfish in general are high in cholesterol, but low in saturated fat.
How you cook the fish and shellfish should also be taken into consideration. Just like with everything else, for maximum health avoid the fried, opting instead for poached, baked or grilled. And, as with any dietary concern, check with your doctor if you have concerns about what fish are right for you to include in your personal menu plan. Keep in mind that healthy eating is well balanced, with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein all essential to good health.
The IFIC report specifically points out the need for:
â‹… calcium and vitamin D for bone health;
â‹… whole grains for reduced risk of heart disease;
â‹… antioxidants for protection against free radical damage;
â‹… probiotics for digestive and immune health; and
â‹… omega-3 fatty acids for cognitive development, especially in children.
See some of the heart healthy recipes featured on these pages by clicking here.
This is part of our Beyond the Plate series. View the complete series at: www.beyondtheplate.com.
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