1. It is really good for you
The FDA recommends that adults consume 8-12 ounces of seafood per week or 2-3 servings. According to the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, between 80 and 90% of Americans are not eating enough. Fish and Shellfish are a great source of lean protein, with most seafood options containing less fat than pork, chicken, of beef. Those that do contain high levels of fat, generally contain high levels of heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3’s help brain function. In fact, some studies have shown that they can help protect against dementia and short-term memory loss. They also help reduce triglycerides and reduce stiffness and joint pain. According to Web MD, they can also have beneficial effects for sufferers of asthma, ADHD, arthritis, and depression. They contribute to healthy brain and eye development for babies. Most fish and shellfish also include high levels of B vitamins which can improve mood and energy levels.
But what about the mercury or PCBs or other environmental toxins?
These potential risks associated with shellfish are like many other highly publicized risks, in that they are not as bad as the media would have you believe. According to the FDA, there are only 7 species that should be avoided due to mercury levels and these represent less than 10% of the total seafood consumption in the US. Here is a link to their handy-dandy chart for what to eat: https://www.fda.gov/food/foodborneillnesscontaminants/metals/ucm393070.htm
With mercury and any other potential toxins, the dosage makes the poison. Eating a wide variety of seafood from diverse locations and bodies of water will help ensure that you never reach a level that would cause any ill effects. Observe local warnings from fish and game on any recreationally caught fish and you should be just fine. Pregnant and nursing women and infants should avoid fish high in mercury, but should still eat some fish at least once a week. Trimming off all fat and skin and eating smaller sized or younger fish will help limit mercury intake even more.
2. It is among the few foods available to modern Americans that has not been tampered with.
One of the most attractive aspects of seafood is that it is mostly unadulterated. Most wild-caught fish that is pulled from the ocean is as close to what our ancestors used to eat as anything you can find on earth. It is generally pure and has not been manipulated by the producers to generate higher profits. The same cannot be said for a piece of beef or chicken that you pick up at the supermarket. These have been bred for quicker growth and higher meat yield. They’ve been fed too much food that is chosen for its low cost, not it’s nutritional value. Unless you want to go out and kill your own food, you won’t find many meat options that are as pure as ocean fish.
The downside of this is that when the market calls for more seafood, the industry just can’t make more. There is a real danger that a popular species of fish will be overfished. That is the case today with many species including the bluefin tuna, Atlantic halibut, and orange roughy. In the 1980’s the red drum or “redfish” was fished nearly to extinction. As a result, we have a responsibility to protect these populations and it is important that we do not contribute to bad behavior by seafood producers. Aquaculture is one solution, but it is susceptible to the same pressures that have corrupted our chickens. Still, if given the choice between a farmed fish and a factory farmed cow, I’ll take the fish every time.
But what about that overfishing problem?
Many seafood markets are labelling their products with species, method of take, and country of origin, which can be helpful if you have an idea what to do with that information. The easiest and probably most popular way to make sure you are cooking and eating responsibly is to refer to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.
This site is searchable by species and returns a recommendation that rates the options by species, region, and method of harvest. They even have a seafood guide app for your phone. It will rate each option as Best Choice, Good, or Avoid. I generally try to stick to Best Choice options, but will occasionally eat a fish that is a Good rating. I make it a point to never eat any fish that are rated as Avoid.
Another rule of thumb that works most of the time is that if you have never seen a type of fish in a supermarket, it is probably not overfished. This doesn’t always work, but it is usually reliable with wild caught fish. For wild caught fish, line caught fish are generally a better choice than net caught fish, and both are generally better than bottom trawl caught fish. Farmed fish may be a bad recommendation because of ecologically unsound practices at many fish farms, especially outside the U.S. In general though, fish that are less commercially exploited, such as a cobia or pompano are usually a safe option. One notable exception to this rule is sturgeon. North American farmed sturgeon is a great choice, but there are no good options for wild caught sturgeon. If you can’t do the research, eating the fish that most people are not eating, is your next best bet. Yet another good option for is to go out and catch a fish yourself. If you catch a fish recreationally and follow all applicable laws and restrictions, you can be pretty confident that you are being a good steward of our seafood resources.
3. It is a tremendous opportunity to add variety to your diet.
For those in the “fish sticks only” camp, nothing can broaden the dietary horizons more than embracing the almost endless aquatic options. No other protein offers more variety of textures and flavors than seafood. An easy way to break out of a dietary rut is to go buy a fish or shellfish that you’ve never tried and find a way to cook it. You might not fall in love with the first conch you eat, but you certainly won’t be bored.
Plus, sometimes the value is in the food you don’t eat. Every time you eat a piece of grilled mahi-mahi, you are potentially skipping a bacon cheeseburger. I like a bacon cheeseburger as much as the next guy, but more than once a month puts you at risk for some serious finger wagging from your doctor. There are plenty of seafood options that are just as enjoyable and don’t endanger your heart.
But, what if it tastes fishy?
This is where Seafood Sherpa can help. With our broad index of available fish which describes many of the species available to consumers in the United States, you can be sure than your choice is in line with your taste buds and your tolerance for culinary adventure. Our guide to choosing and caring for seafood will help ensure that you choose the freshest, highest quality fish and that this quality makes it all the way to your dinner table.
4. You can use seafood to really class up your dinner party
Which sounds more interesting: Baked chicken breast with vegetables or Snapper al Cartoccio? You can have either one for essentially the same cost and the cooking process is virtually identical. A grilled white seabass is just as easy as a grilled tri-tip. A filet mignon is classy, but not necessarily memorable, while people will talk about your sturgeon with spicy cilantro cream sauce long after the last bite is finished. For entertaining, nothing is more impactful than feeding a new food to a group of friends in a fun and delicious preparation.
But, what if I don’t know how to cook all those things?
Never fear. You have the internet. The internet has Seafood Sherpa. You can use our basic skills lessons to quickly learn how to cook just about any fish. If you have already mastered those basic skills you can jump right into some of our more advanced recipes and start cooking something exciting today. If you know how to cook a few fish, you can use our Peery-odic table of fish to find similar fish and branch out as much as you want. By making small jumps along the table, you can take a structured and safe approach to expanding your palate.