Seafood is a wonderful source of many nutrients, providing numerous health benefits to the body. For individuals who are not vegetarian, seafood should be included as part of a healthy diet.
The following information outlines some key nutrients that can be obtained from seafood and why they are so beneficial to good health.
Nutrition of seafood
Omega 3 fatty acids
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are omega 3 fatty acids that are found in seafood. They are very important for mental health, heart health, their anti inflammatory properties, foetal brain development and in contributing to a strong immune system (for more detailed information on their benefits, read my blog on ‘Health Benefits of Omega 3 Fatty Acids’).
Omega 3 fatty acids are most rich in oily fish such as salmon, sardines, tuna and mackerel. However, despite being lower in fatty acids, other seafood such as prawns and mussels can still contribute significantly to your daily requirements!
Calcium is very important for the maintenance of strong bones and teeth throughout life. Calcium as well plays an important role in the functioning of nerves and muscles. If sufficient calcium is not obtained through dietary means, our calcium reserves are depleted and complications can result such as low bone mineral density, osteoporosis and increased risk of fractures.
For the above reasons, bony fish are great to eat! Fish bones are very high in calcium. This includes sardines and tinned salmon. However, the bones of some fish are not appropriate to consume as they are sharp and difficult to digest.
Intakes of over 250g of bony fish per week are associated with greater bone mineral density. Mussels, crab, prawns, and oysters are also good sources of calcium.
Protein has many important roles and functions within the body. Seafood is a great source of complete protein – the form that is readily absorbed.
There have been some links between a high intake of red meat and an increased risk of colon cancer. On the other hand, research has shown that regular intake of seafood decreases the risk of many cancers. For this reason, it is a good idea to swap red meat for fish a few times a week.
Seafood protein has also been linked with increased insulin sensitivity, a reduction in inflammation and lower blood pressure.
Iodine is of great importance for mental and physical health. It influences such things as growth, metabolism, and development of the nervous system. Iodine deficiency can have profound outcomes on health. It is of particular importance to be meeting iodine requirements during pregnancy.
Most seafood contains iodine, shellfish being the richest source. Seafood has the highest iodine concentration compared to most other commonly consumed foods in the Australian diet. Other foods, such as bread, are also fortified with iodine to reduce the risk of deficiency.
Zinc is necessary for normal growth and development, a healthy immune system and optimal healing from infection.
Crops grown in Australian arable land were once a significant contributor to our zinc intake. Over time, our land and hence the crops grown in it have decreased in zinc concentration. For this reason, it is important for zinc rich foods to be included in the diet.
Seafood is a great way to meet your zinc requirements. This is because zinc binds to protein which increases its bioavailability (absorption). Seafood is a good source of both protein and zinc, making the zinc easily absorbed. If you need an excuse to eat them, oysters are one of the richest sources of zinc!
Selenium deficiency is more common in New Zealand where the soil concentration is lower. Seafood is one of the best sources of selenium as it has a high bioavailability. However, fish capsules do not provide the same quality of selenium.
Additionally, it has been suggested that selenium may offset mercury by reducing its accumulation in fish populations and therefore its harmful effects.
Seafood is also a very good source of vitamins E, B 12 and A. It is also a good source of iron.
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Seafood and cholesterol
For more information on the cholesterol found in seafood – see my blog ‘seafood and cholesterol’
Health benefits of seafood
- Reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease
- Increases HDL cholesterol – this is the good type of cholesterol
- Improves circulation
- Has anti inflammatory properties
- Assists with brain development in infants
- Contributes to muscle and tissue growth
- Helps sustain healthy eye sight
- Contributes to a strong immune system and healing from infection
- Helps maintain or improve mental health and mood
- Is low in fat and energy so can help maintain a healthy weight
Contact us for results focused nutritional advice
This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist.
If you have diet related questions or if you want healthy eating advice, Contact Us Today!
For further information
Seafood nutrition and human: curtin.edu.au
Omega 3 content of different types of seafood: heartfoundation.org.au