A monthly column from Beverly A. Jackey MS, RDN Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences University of Maryland Extension:
Autumn is here and our thoughts turn to fall favorite foods such as apples, pumpkin-flavored items and warm, comforting foods like soups and chili. But we don’t have to say goodbye to summer favorite foods like seafood. October is National Seafood Month and the National Seafood Partnership encourages people to enjoy the benefits of eating seafood all year long.
Benefits of Eating Seafood
Fish and shellfish contains many nutrients needed for good health. In addition to the B vitamins that support a healthy immune system and vitamin D and protein for strong bones and muscles, seafood is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, important for a heart and brain health. Omega-3s can help protect against heart attacks, decrease blood triglyceride levels and increase HDL (good) cholesterol. Fish and shellfish are also ‘brain foods’. Fish has memory and brain-boosting benefits in adults of all ages. Brain and nervous system tissues are partly made up of fat and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid that keeps the brain functioning normally and efficiently. In fact, low levels of DHA have been found to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Nutrients in fish are also important for brain development in children and studies show that eating seafood just twice a week can improve their attention span, grades and sleep. But to get the brain benefits of DHA, you should consume seafood regularly.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends adults consume at least 8 ounces of seafood or two 4-ounce servings of fish per week. If you are pregnant, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it is safe to consume cooked seafood 2-3 times per week. Some fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, bigeye tuna in sushi, orange roughy and marlin should be avoided during pregnancy because they are higher in mercury, which can be harmful at very high levels. Oily fish such as wild salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, sardines, herring and farmed trout are great choices.
Buying and Cooking Seafood
You can buy seafood in a variety of ways at your local supermarket or grocery store; fresh from the seafood counter, frozen in the freezer section and in cans and pouches on the shelf in the center of the store. With new flash frozen-at-sea technologies, frozen seafood is just as nutritious as fresh fish. Canned seafood like tuna, salmon, clams and shrimp are great choices when you are looking for a quick and easy meal. Both frozen and canned seafood are cost-effective alternatives that provide a healthy meal option.
When you get cooking, try broiling, grilling, baking, poaching or pan-searing your fish. The extra fat from deep frying adds extra calories and fat.
Farmed or Wild Caught?
Both farmed and wild seafood are safe to eat. Fish farms provides us with seafood to eat while rebuilding populations of fish that are threatened and endangered. The two main types of seafood farming are marine, which uses net enclosures in the open ocean or in tanks on land, and freshwater, usually man-made ponds. In the U.S., the most common farmed species include oysters, clams, mussels, and shrimp, and fish such as catfish, trout, salmon and black sea bass.
If you looking for an easy “brain food” recipe, try this easy taco recipe or other recipes on the Seafood Nutrition Partnership website: https://www.seafoodnutrition.org/
Easy Fish Tacos (4 tacos)
- 1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 2 1/2 cups shredded red cabbage
- 4 green onions, thinly sliced
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound tilapia fillets or other white flaky fish, cut into strips
- 8 (6 inch) flour tortillas
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
- Mix sour cream and lime juice together in a large bowl; season with salt and black pepper. Reserve about half the mixture in another bowl for serving. Toss cabbage, green onions, and remaining sour cream mixture until slaw is well mixed.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Season tilapia fillets with salt and pepper. Pan-fry fish strips in the skillet until fish is golden brown and easily flaked with a fork, 5 to 6 minutes.
- Heat tortillas in the microwave on high until warm, 20 to 30 seconds.
- Serve fish in warmed tortillas topped with cabbage slaw, sour cream mixture, and cilantro.