FOOD FOR THOUGHT
SEAFOOD: GET HOOKED SUSTAINABLY
Dietitian Nicole Senior reports.
If any food could be considered a super food, it’s seafood (fish and shellfish). High in protein, and low in saturated fat, it’s a major source of healthy long-chain omega-3 fats and rich in nutrients such as iron, zinc, selenium, iodine, and vitamin D. And there is strong evidence eating it is good for the heart. Quality observational studies have shown approximately one to two 100-gram (3½-ounce) servings of fatty fish a week – salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, or sardines – reduce the risk of heart disease.
There is also consistent evidence that consuming fish two to three times a week along with leafy greens and other fruit and vegetables daily and low GI carbohydrates can reduce your risk of developing macular degeneration, or help to slow its progression if it has already become established.
HOW MUCH SEAFOOD? Nutrition guidelines around the world suggest adults eat two serves of seafood a week. A serving is 100g (3½oz) of cooked (or 115g/4oz raw), which is around the size of your hand, or the amount in a small can. While battered and deep‐fried fish ’n’ chips are delicious, steamed, broiled/grilled, baked or pan‐fried fish are better options. Boost the health benefits and serve with plenty of vegetables or salad.
WHICH FISH? There is a huge variety of seafood to choose from but we creatures of habit tend to stick to a limited range of our favourites that are quick and easy to prepare and available all year round. However, globally, overfishing is a big problem. Taking pressure off fish stocks means we need to branch out and try different types of seafood. An added bonus is the less popular species tend to be cheaper.
If you want to expand your options, ask the fishmonger about what’s local and abundant or check out the “nose to tail” movement that promotes using all of the animal or in this case, fish. We as citizen-eaters can help by eating “fin to fin” (i.e. the whole fish and not just our favourite boneless, fillets) and not wasting any because throwing seafood in the bin stinks to high heaven and just adds insult to injury (it wastes the already significant environmental costs in producing it). If you have the space, you can bury your seafood scraps in the yard or garden to enrich the soil.
Look online, and you’ll find there are a number of people and organisations already promoting lesser-known fish with tips on how to choose and recipes to get great results. If you want to be adventurous in the kitchen, a good place to start would be Josh Niland’s The Whole Fish Cookbook (Hardie Grant), which is packed with ideas for cooking undervalued and less celebrated fish, and yes, the whole fish.
WHICH FISH IF YOU ARE PREGNANT? Now is the time to be selective. Avoid raw fish (e.g. sashimi, sushi), pre‐cooked prawns and smoked salmon due to the risk of listeria (a bacteria that can cause problems for the unborn child if the mother becomes infected). Fish and seafood are nutritionally important foods during pregnancy but some species contain high levels of mercury and some caution is required. Check your local health authority for which species to limit or avoid, but keep in mind most are OK and seafood provides essential nutrients during pregnancy. In general, predator fish species at the top of the food chain accumulate higher levels of mercury – smaller fish species are lower in mercury. Canned fish products are not high in mercury.
WHAT ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY?
Many people are concerned about seafood sustainability, but the twice a week recommendation for health (around 200g total) is about the amount of fish the EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Diet recommends (28g/day or 196g/week) to eat sustainably within natural limits. In reality most people eat less than this now, so sustainability concerns need not stop you from the twice a week target, provided you choose wisely.
Josh Niland sees sustainability as a three-pronged approach. “First, you have to be aware of the stock status of the species, Second, you have to be aware of the practices of the fishermen who caught your fish. Was it trawled in large nets or individually line caught? Finally, waste minimisation.” He believes we need to give far more consideration to the elements that traditionally would be considered as waste. Many of the world’s most highly desired and loved dishes have been born from the utilisation of waste. Why should fish be different?
Choosing sustainable seafood is important to ensure an ongoing supply for future generations. How? Look for sustainability logos when shopping for packaged seafood, such as the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) logo. Check out the sustainability status of fresh fish and seafood in your country via websites or apps, such as the SAFS (Status of Australian Fish Stocks).
- Is your favourite seafood sustainable?
- There aren’t plenty of fish in the sea so let’s eat all we can catch
- The Whole Fish Cookbook, Josh Niland
- EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Diet and Health
Nicole Senior is an Accredited Nutritionist, author, consultant, cook, food enthusiast and mother who strives to make sense of nutrition science and delights in making healthy food delicious. Contact: You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or check out her website.