Super seafood: Discover the health benefits of seafood
Seafood is a wonderful source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Discover the health benefits of seafood as well as some delicious recipes to help incorporate more fish into your life.
It goes without saying that seafood has some unique nutritional properties, not to mention an incomparable richness in flavour. If you’ve been thinking fish is just another weekday meal on a plate, it’s time to think again.
Seafood has an incredible abundance of nutrients, but one of the standouts is the macronutrient protein. The human body requires a balance of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) from the diet and, while protein requirements can be some of the more challenging for individuals to meet, a small serve of seafood can help increase quality protein intake with ease.
Seafood such as fish and shellfish contain the nine essential amino acids (histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine) or building blocks required to make a complete protein. These essential amino acids are necessary within your body for actions including the synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters, for growth and development of muscles and tissues and regulating immune function.
An easy portion guide to achieve your weekly protein intake from fish is about the size of the palm of your hand plus three fingers.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines suggest two to three serves per week of seafood, including oily fish such as salmon, trout, tuna, mackerel and herring. An easy portion guide to achieve your weekly protein intake from fish is about the size of the palm of your hand plus three fingers, which is an approximate equivalent to the recommended 150–200g fish per serve.
For easy, protein-rich meals for any day of the week keep these delicious seafood ideas front of mind:
- Grilled barramundi and steamed vegetables
- Sweet potato fish burgers
- Crispy-skin trout with greens and cauliflower mash
- Tuna and avocado on toast
- Almond-crusted fish fingers baked in the oven
- Cajun-spiced salmon with barbecued vegetables
- Fish tacos with chilli lime guacamole
Iodine is a vital micronutrient in the human diet and primarily responsible for its role in thyroid function in the body. Thyroid hormones regulate metabolic processes, support brain and physical development in childhood and are critical for the normal development of baby in utero.
In the past, when iodine was richer in soils and plant and animal foods, your ability to meet the recommended daily intake (RDI) of 150mcg for adults (with greater demand during pregnancy) was relatively simple. However, soils have become increasingly nutrient- and iodine-depleted due to over-farming. So incorporating iodine-rich foods from a variety of sources in the diet is essential and, you guessed it, seafood and marine-based plants including kelp and nori are a wonderful solution to meeting the body’s iodine needs.
You’ll satisfy the RDI for iodine with an intake of two to three serves per week of fish and seafood, so aim to integrate a variety and keep simple meal ideas on hand including:
- Nori rolls with fresh tuna or salmon, avocado with some miso soup and steamed soybeans
- Ricepaper rolls with sardines, capsicum, snow peas and herbs (recipe below)
- Dried kelp in fish stew or curry with plenty of vegetables and served with a side of quinoa
Omega-3 fatty acids
One of the richest food sources of the omega-3 essential fatty acids EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acid) is good-quality seafood. Just as essential amino acids build proteins, essential fatty acids must be acquired via dietary sources.
One of the richest food sources of the omega-3 essential fatty acids EPA and DHA is good-quality seafood.
EPA and DHA play a role in reducing inflammation in the body, synthesising hormones, lowering blood pressure and heart rate and helping to regulate genetic function. And, while EPA and DHA supplements in the form of fish oils are readily available, you can acquire a reasonable dose of these essential fatty acids by including fatty or oily fish-based meals frequently.
To up your fatty fish intake, aim for scrumptious combinations such as:
- Steamed salmon with fennel, tomatoes and olives (recipe below)
- Tuna pasta with zucchini noodles, herbs and lemon zest
- Mackerel pâté with bitter greens and seed snaps
An incredibly diverse mineral used by the human body for literally hundreds of different biochemical pathways, zinc is abundant in seafood such as oysters, crab, prawns and other shellfish.
The RDI for zinc for Australian adults is 8mg/day for women (more during pregnancy and post-partum) and 14mg/day for men, which can be successfully achieved by consuming just three oysters. While three meets the recommended intake for zinc in particular, definitely go for a few more. Oysters can ward off the common cold, boost immunity and support wound healing.
Consider these delectable zinc-rich meals and appetisers:
- Oysters with ruby grapefruit and pickled onion (recipe below)
- Mussels in garlic tomato sauce with toasted sourdough and green salad
- Fresh prawn salad with mango, toasted nuts and avocado
It’s hard to believe that a large number of Australians are increasingly vitamin D deficient. With more time spent indoors, heavy application of sunscreen when outdoors and the decline of a balanced, wholefood diet in favour of a more refined and processed one, these numbers are likely to steadily increase in the years to come, too.
While sunlight is one of the most abundant supplies of vitamin D, a few select foods provide a source of vitamin D too: salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel top that list. A 100gm serving of herring, for example, delivers nearly three times the RDI for vitamin D, while 100gm sardines (about one small store-bought tin) delivers close to half the RDI.
Wondering how to up your dose of vitamin D with seafood? Choose:
- Stuffed sardines with herbs, almond crumb and fresh tomato sauce
- Herring pasta with herbs, garlic, chilli and capsicum
- Mackerel with potato, zucchini and bean salad
There is a plethora of nourishing qualities of delicious seafood, but understanding how they best serve some of the more present health conditions in society such as fertility, brain function and sleep is vital.
Reproductive health and fertility
The optimal diet for preconception care, fertility and pregnancy is diverse in wholefood nutrition, low in processed and refined foods, and abundant with specific nutrients to support both sperm and egg development and, ultimately, conception.
Oysters can ward off the common cold, boost immunity and support wound healing in the body.
Put zinc and omega-3 fatty acids close to the top of the list for their positive effect on fertility in both men and women; both are in their richest forms in seafood. Because zinc cannot be stored in the body a regular intake is required, and without diets rich in sources of zinc its ability to support hormones such as testosterone and the function of the prostate can be significantly reduced. In women’s fertility, zinc’s role is similar in protecting and supporting the development of the oocyte, fertilisation and the development of the embryo.
Zinc requirements go up during pregnancy, from around 8mg per day to 11mg per day and, due to significant zinc loss during birth, a boost of zinc-rich seafood is one of the best ways to replenish this depleted nutrient in the post-partum period, too.
Brain health and cognitive function
Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, from fish such as trout, salmon, tuna and mackerel, are some of the best food sources to support normal brain function, development and memory throughout life, yet many individuals do not meet the recommended intake of fatty fish (two to three serves per week to support brain and cognitive function). Fatty acids present in these fish are vital for the integrity of the cell membrane of the brain and for communication between brain cells.
Several studies have also shown that cognitive decline in the elderly population is linked with both macro- and micronutrient deficiencies, including poor intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids such as DHA. Many studies also suggest that increasing fatty fish intake in the diet of the elderly may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and protect the population from developing cognitive impairment.
Sleep and mood
Sleep and mood are intricately linked, and it is not without a healthy lifestyle and good nutrition that either can be achieved at their best. Understanding what foods to eat prior to sleep is less spoken of yet vitally important for a good night of rest. Seafood takes the podium once again.
It is primarily the rich source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids in seafood that supports the body’s ability to move into a restful state and feel the benefits in energy and mood the following day. A portion of protein such as salmon or trout in the evening meal helps stabilise blood glucose levels, appetite and energy, leaving you less likely to turn to sweet treats for an extra kicker after dinner and overstimulating the body before rest.
While being a complete protein source, fish such as salmon and trout also deliver the amino acid tryptophan to the body. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid and precursor to one of the body’s key sleep hormones, melatonin, which governs wakefulness and sleep. Tryptophan not only positively supports our circadian rhythms but is also used by the body to produce some mood hormones such as serotonin, also known as the “happy hormone”.
Super seafood recipes
Steamed Salmon with Fennel, Tomatoes & Olives
Oysters with Ruby Grapefruit & Pickled Onion
- Pickled Onion:
- ¼ cup apple-cider vinegar
- ¼ cup boiling water
- 1 tsp raw sugar
- ½ small red onion, peeled & finely diced
- 6 freshly shucked oysters
- ¼ ruby grapefruit, finely diced & pith removed
- Black pepper
- Combine apple-cider vinegar, boiling water and raw sugar in a heatproof container or bowl, mix, then add red onion and set aside to pickle for 20 mins (more if possible). Store in an airtight container in fridge for up to 2 weeks.
- To serve oysters, clean out any broken pieces of shell and top each oyster with ½–1 tsp each of ruby grapefruit and pickled onion. Season with black pepper and serve.
Fresh Ricepaper Rolls with Sardines & Vegetables
- 3 large sheets ricepaper
- 1 Lebanese cucumber, sliced into long thin strips
- ½ large red banana chilli, seeds removed, sliced into long thin strips
- ½ shallot, trimmed & sliced into thin strips
- 1 × 100g tin sardines, roughly broken into pieces
- 8 snow peas, trimmed
- ¼ red capsicum
- Tamari, soy or peanut butter, to serve
- Take a medium-sized bowl and add boiling water. Dip one ricepaper sheet into bowl, rotating to soak evenly, then place on chopping board.
- Place strips of cucumber, chilli and shallots in the middle of the wrap, top with sardines, snow peas and red capsicum strips.
- Roll one side in tightly followed by two ends and finish rolling to the opposite side.
- Repeat with remaining ingredients.
- Slice into pieces and serve.
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