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Seafood & Human Health

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The connection between seafood and health is undeniable, yet information available to consumers can be confusing and conflicting.  Doctors, nutritionists, and federal agencies recognize that seafood is indisputably a healthy part of human diet.  Seafood generally is a low-fat source of high-quality protein and is the best dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids.  With a few exceptions for selected species, fish is usually low in saturated fats, carbohydrates, and cholesterol.  These Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) address some basic questions about seafood and human health.  If you have a question or concern that is not addressed here, contact us.

 


In addition to the questions below, the Delaware Sea Grant program and its partners created a website,“
Seafood Health Facts: Making Smart Choices - Balancing the Benefits and Risks of Seafood Consumption,” a resource for consumers to obtain objective information on seafood products.  Visit www.seafoodhealthfacts.orgfor more information.
 

  

  1. Is seafood safe to eat?
  2. What makes eating seafood a healthy choice?
  3. Are omega-3’s important to a healthy diet?
  4. How do fish get omega-3 fatty acids?
  5. How much seafood should I eat?
  6. How much seafood do Americans eat every year?
  7. Should I eat raw seafood?
  8. What seafood is consumed most in the United States?
  9. Is it safe to eat farmed fish?
  10. What is the risk of eating contaminated seafood?
  11. What seafood is high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in mercury?
  12. Where can I get more information about eating seafood?

 
1.  Is seafood safe to eat?

Yes, the U.S. laws governing the culture, harvest, and processing of seafood for human consumption are among the most stringent in the world.  The responsibilities of monitoring and controlling seafood safety are divided among various agencies of the federal government and individual states.  The primary federal agencies involved with seafood safety include

Consumers play an important role in seafood safety as well.  When shopping for seafood, it is important to know what to look for.  Read the NOAA Fishwatch Program ‘Seafood & Your Health ’page for information about buying, handling, storing, and cooking seafood.

 

Visit seafoodhealthfacts.org for more information.

 

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2.  What makes eating seafood a healthy choice?

Yes, seafood is very good for you.  Nutritionists have known for decades that seafood is a low-fat source of high-quality protein and that the health benefits of eating seafood make it one of the best choices for children, active adults, and the elderly.  Decades of research continue to show that eating seafood can decrease your risk of heart attack, stroke, obesity, and hypertension among many other benefits.  Type “seafood health benefits” into any search engine orcontact usif you would like specific information.  Most seafood contains the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which confer the health benefits touted by nutritionists.

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3.  Are omega-3’s important to a healthy diet?

Yes.  Americans, on average, eat about half the amount of marine omega-3’s that they should for health.  One study found that a lack of these fatty acids in the diet is high on the list of preventable causes of death in the United States, killing more Americans than drunk drivers. 

Fish omega-3 fatty acids have been proven to offer significant health benefits.  The most important omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).  Consumption of marine omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to prevent and aid in the treatment of many clinical ailments including high blood pressure, heart disease, certain types of cancer, clinical depression, anxiety, and macular degeneration.  Fish omega-3s also may help minimize the development of several chronic degenerative diseases and may have a therapeutic effect for certain conditions such as arthritis and atherosclerosis.  (It is important to understand that the omega-3s found in plant oils such as flax and olive oil is not the same as those found in fish.)   For more information on omega-3 fatty acids and health, go to the National Institutes of Health ‘Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Health’ dietary supplement fact sheet.

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4.  How do fish get omega-3 fatty acids?

Fish and shellfish ingest and accumulate omega-3 fatty acids through the food chain from algae and phytoplankton, the primary producers of marine omega-3 fatty acids.  The human body can only produce saturated and omega-9 fatty acids which means we have to get the omega-3 fatty acids we need through our daily foods.
 

Did you know?

With aquaculture, fish are given specifically-formulated diets to maximize fish health and growth as well as the final product quality for human consumption.  These diets include varying amounts of fish meal, fish oil, vegetable and other products – depending on the nutrient needs of the fish and the desire to have a heart healthy product.  The fishmeal and fish oil included in aquaculture feeds contain marine omega-3 fatty acids.  For more information on aquaculture feeds, see our Fish Feeds for Aquaculture FAQ.

 
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5.  How much seafood should I eat?

In January 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) updated their Dietary Guidelines for Americans, recommending that consumers double their seafood consumptionto eat at least two servings (3 to 6 ounces each) of seafood each week and that women who are pregnant or breast feeding eat 8 to 12 ounces of seafood per week.  According to USDA, evidence shows that consumption of about 8 ounces per week of a variety of seafood – which provide an average consumption of 250 mg per day of EPA and DHA – is associated with the prevention of heart disease.  USDA therefore makes the quantitative recommendation of at least eight ounces of seafood per week. 
 

Did you know?

In addition to the health benefits for the public, the nutritional value of seafood is of particular importance during fetal growth and development, as well as in early infancy and child-hood.  Evidence indicates that intake of omega-3 fatty acids, in particular DHA, from at least 8 ounces of seafood per week for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding is associated with improved infant health outcomes such as visual and cognitive development.  For more information, see the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

 
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6.  How much seafood do Americans eat every year?

In 2009 (the last year for which data is available), Americans consumed a total of 4.833 billion pounds of seafood – or approximately15.8 pounds of fish and shellfishper person – of which roughly 50 percent is wild-caught and 50 percent is farmed, according to NOAA’s latest data.  On a per capita basis, Americans eat about 3.5 ounces per week, which is half of what USDA recommends.

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7.  Should I eat raw seafood?

It's always best to cook seafood thoroughly to minimize the risk of foodborne illness.  However, if you choose to eat raw fish anyway, one rule of thumb is to eat fish that has been previously frozen.  Some species of fish can contain parasites, and freezing will kill parasites that may be present.  However, be aware that freezing doesn't kill all harmful microorganisms.  That's why the safest route is to cook your seafood.  For more information on making informed choices about seafood, go to NOAA’s Fishwatch page. People with certain immune or liver disorders should never eat raw seafood.
 

Did you know?

Farm-raised oysters, clams, scallops, and mussels are monitored by the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC)in cooperation with several federal agencies.  Like with wild-caught seafood, people with certain immune or liver disorders should never eat raw seafood. 

 
 

Visit seafoodhealthfacts.org for more information.

 


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8.  What seafood is consumed most in the United States?

Based on NOAA’s statistics, the top 10 seafood’s consumed by Americans in 2010 were:

  1. Shrimp  (4.10 lbs)
  2. Canned Tuna  (2.8 lbs)
  3. Salmon  (1.84 lbs)
  4. Tilapia  (1.34 lbs)
  5. Pollock  (1.19)
  6. Catfish  (0.92 lbs)
  7. Crab  (0.61 lbs)
  8. Cod  (0.44 lbs)
  9. Pangasius  (0.43 lbs)
  10. Clams  (0.341 lbs)

Total All Species  (15.8 lbs)

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9.  Is it safe to eat farmed fish and shellfish?

Yes, farmed seafood is both safe and healthy to eat.  In the United States, seafood farmers follow the same food safety guidelines as land farmers and any other producer of seafood including harvesting from approved waters, feed regulations, handling and processing under sanitary conditions, and maintaining records.  Both the diets and environments of farmed seafood are monitored and controlled throughout the life of the animal.  In addition, companies producing aquaculture products for human consumption must comply with numerous state and federal food safety regulations and undergo regular inspections.

The primary federal agencies involved with seafood safety include

 

Visit seafoodhealthfacts.org for more information.

 

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10.  What is the risk of eating contaminated seafood?

Seafood – wild or farm-raised – has the potential to contain low levels of naturally-occurring biotoxins or manmade contaminants (e.g., mercury and PCBs).  However, the seafood on the shelves at your local supermarket is safe to eat.  Seafood safety and public health are under the purview of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state agencies.  Research, testing, and monitoring of seafood for human safety is also conducted within NOAA, in cooperation with the FDA and state/local public health agencies.  For wild seafood, health alerts may be issued by public health agencies.

The greatest risk of exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) is from recreationally-caught fish from contaminated waters.  Always check for any advisories at your local or state health department or U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) prior to eating recreationally-caught fish or shellfish.

Did you Know?

Evidence shows that the health benefits from consuming a variety of seafood in the amounts recommended vastly outweigh the health risks associated with potential contaminants, including mercury and PCBs.

 
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11.  What seafood is high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in mercury?

Seafood varieties that are commonly consumed in the United States that are higher in healthy omega-3 fatty acids and lower in mercury include salmon (wild and farmed), anchovies, herring, sardines, oysters, cod, trout, and Atlantic and Pacific mackerel (not king mackerel, which maybe high in mercury).  For more information, see the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  For more information on making informed choices about seafood, go to NOAA’s Fishwatch page.

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12.  Where can I get more information about eating seafood?

The connection between seafood and health is undeniable, yet information available to consumers can be confusing and conflicting.  Consumers want to know if fish and other seafood are healthy and safe to eat and feed to their families.  U.S. federal government agencies – including NOAA – have an obligation to help make information about seafood products more accessible to the public.  To help you make informed decisions about the seafood you eat by providing the most accurate and up-to-date information on seafood available in the U.S, please visit Fishwatch.

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