In December of 2020, the US Department of Agriculture released the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2020-2025). The 164-page document outlines nutrition requirements that we should be following to keep ourselves in tip top shape. Some of those requirements came as quite a surprise, including the one that said we should aim to eat at least two servings of seafood (that’s eight ounces total) per week.
For many of us, seafood doesn’t make it onto our dinner plates on a weekly basis. But according to the new requirements, eating seafood twice a week is a simple way to increase your intake of lean protein while also helping you to get more beneficial nutrients into your diet.
So why is this important? The USDA emphasizes the huge need for more diversity in each of the more general food groups. While most Americans are consuming adequate amounts of protein in general, it’s noted that most of that protein comes from meat, eggs, and high-sodium dairy products like cheese. Swapping these foods for other protein-rich choices can make a huge difference to our overall health.
The USDA, therefore, insists that we should aim to eat more foods that fall into the other, more neglected, protein subgroups — like seafood and pulses (that’s beans, lentils, and peas). After all, eating more seafood compared to other types of protein can provide you with high amounts of other important nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, thiamine, selenium, and iodine.
Seafood is particularly high in the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). While most Americans are meeting their protein needs, they are most often not meeting their needs of these extremely crucial fats. EPA and DHA have shown to help reduce inflammation which has been linked to a number of chronic health conditions, one of those being the number one killer in the country — heart disease.
On its own, DHA has shown to support brain function. Studies show that DHA actually increases blood flow in the brain during mental tasks. Other research suggests that it may play a preventative role for conditions like ADHD and Alzheimer’s. Seafoods that are highest in these fatty acids include salmon, mackerel, sardines, cod, and tuna.
It is estimated that around 40 percent of Americans are deficient in Vitamin D, so it’s no wonder it is one of the key nutrients highlighted by the new guidelines. As we’ve seen with the covid-19 pandemic, vitamin D is absolutely essential to immune function. On top of that, vitamin D plays a role in the absorption of calcium, helping us to form and maintain strong bones as we age.
Research suggests that adequate intake of vitamin D provides us with protection from conditions like osteoporosis, hypertension, cancer, and even a number of autoimmune diseases. The best seafood sources of vitamin D include salmon, herring, sardines, and canned tuna — just be sure you’re choosing varieties with no salt added!
Seafood is also rich in metabolism-boosting thiamine (also called vitamin B1) and two important nutrients for thyroid health — selenium and iodine. All this being said, adding two servings of seafood into your weekly diet, per the new USDA guidelines, is a surefire way to give your body what it needs to thrive.