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A stance on seafood
Why sustainable farming and nutritional density are important considerations


January 2016

It’s no secret that seafood is generally a healthier, more nutrient-dense alternative to red meat. "In general, seafood tends to be lower in saturated fat than red meat. It also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which help to decrease inflammation," explains Michelle Black, a registered dietician with Oconomowoc-based NuGenesis. But are certain seafoods healthier than others? When considering options, Black recommends eating low on the food chain. "Small fish are generally more plentiful and contain less methyl mercury and other industrial chemicals and environmental pollutants," she says. "Methyl mercury is of concern because of the damage it can cause to the brain, kidney and the central nervous system. It is particularly important that women in the childbearing age and those who are pregnant avoid exposure to mercury." Here, Black breaks down the best seafoods to consume.

The usual suspect: Shrimp

Although shrimp are high in protein and low in calories, they’re also high in cholesterol. "Recent reports indicate that it takes almost 3 pounds of fish to produce 1 pound of farmed shrimp, which could be contributing to the depleted oceans," notes Black.

The worthy opponent: Oysters

A sustainable alternative to shrimp are oysters, Black says. "In general, farmed or fresh caught oysters are a sustainable choice and are very nutrient dense," she explains. "Oysters are plentiful, and their presence in the environment actually helps to clean the water by feeding off of algae and other nutrients present in the water."

The usual suspect: Atlantic salmon

While salmon is rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, certain types vary in their nutritional profile. Atlantic salmon, for example, are endangered in the wild, but farms off the coasts of Canada, South America and Europe still provide large, relatively inexpensive quantities, says Black. "Be sure to choose a variety that is farmed in the U.S. or Canada," she cautions. "Operations in South America have many complaints of contaminating the surrounding ocean waters with waste, antibiotics and other pollutants."

The worthy opponent: Wild Alaskan salmon

"Wild caught varieties that are harvested off the coast of Alaska have the highest amount of heart-healthy fats due to their natural diet of krill, which creates the pink-colored flesh that we can easily identify," Black explains. "Alaskan salmon populations are healthy and monitored continuously to ensure that they are not being overharvested."

The usual suspect: Swordfish

Swordfish is an excellent source of protein, selenium and vitamin B12, but its high levels of methyl mercury make it a dangerous choice for pregnant women, nursing mothers and children. For these groups, avoiding swordfish completely is advised.

The worthy opponent: Rainbow trout

Black says farm-raised rainbow trout can be sourced locally from Rushing Waters in Palmyra. "Farmed rainbow trout contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids," she adds. "In fact, one cooked serving contains a little more than double the amount the World Health Organization recommends humans consume each day."

The usual suspect: Tuna

Like swordfish, tuna is highly contaminated with methyl mercury and should be avoided by women who are pregnant or may become pregnant and young children. Black recommends consuming light tuna, which is lower in mercury than albacore/white tuna.

The worthy opponent: Flounder

Flounder’s especially low fat content makes it a great option for people with heart disease or high cholesterol. "Flounder contains a comparable amount of inflammation-lowering omega-3 fatty acids as tuna — however, it is a much better choice in order to avoid mercury and other environmental contaminants," says Black.

App Watch

For the smartphone savvy, dietician Michelle Black suggests downloading the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s "Seafood Watch" app. Both the company’s downloadable PDF guide and mobile application allow usersto learn about sustainable seafood options as well as provide information regarding where and how the fish or shellfish is caught.


This story ran in the January 2016 issue of: