By Tina Ruggiero, MS, RD, LD
Each year, U.S. News & World Report ranks for weight loss and health promotion the most popular diets in the Nation. Guided by a panel of experts including nutritionists and specialists in diabetes, heart health, human behavior and weight loss, the magazine reviews these diets, rated in seven categories including short and long-term weight loss, ease of compliance, safety and nutrition.
This year, as in years past, there were a few new contenders vying for a top spot such as the Flexitarian Diet, the Engine 2 Diet and the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Some of the diets scored very well, others did not, but, as expected, a flurry of debate followed the annual pronouncement.
Among the top-scoring diet programs this year were DASH, Mayo Clinic, Mediterranean, TLC and Weight Watchers. While each have a slightly different focus (i.e. reducing cholesterol, lowering high blood pressure, weight loss) and a distinct approach, there is one common denominator that nearly each of the “best diets” share, and that’s the encouragement of fish consumption.
Every day, we’re bombarded with messages about what we shouldn’t eat, but seafood is among the foods we’re encouraged to eat more of, no matter what your personal health and wellness goals may be. Versatile, affordable, delicious and healthy, seafood is an incredible source of protein and essential nutrients, yet the average American eats less than one serving of seafood each week.
Two recent, scientific reports encourage the general population, as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women, to eat eight to 12 ounces of seafood weekly to boost brain health and avoid the risk of developing heart disease. Further, the latest U.S. Dietary Guidelines encourage Americans to increase their fish consumption to two or three times a week, for its heart healthy benefits. In fact, research from the American Heart Association suggests that eating two servings of fish a week can help reduce the risk of death from a sudden heart attack by as much as 36 percent. Considering more than 200,000 women die annually from heart disease – five times more than the number of women who die from breast cancer – this recommendation is profound.
Conflicting media coverage has discouraged many from buying fish, and this is doing the overall population a huge disservice; new scientific research from around the globe has revealed important findings: Fish consumption is the first line of defense when it comes to health and wellness, and not eating fish can be a risk factor for disease.
The evidence is undeniable. Eating just eight ounces of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon, tuna, halibut and sardines) is associated with reduced cardiac deaths among people with and without pre-existing cardiovascular disease. Regardless of the specific amount of omega-3 fatty acids each species contains, all fish helps adults meet their omega three needs. Eating just eight ounces of fish weekly provides the 250 mg of EPA and DHA considered effective to lowering one’s risk of heart disease. To put this into perspective, eight ounces of fish is the equivalent of two tuna sandwiches.
If you’re an expectant mother, the nutritional value of seafood is critical for fetal growth and development, especially for baby’s visual and cognitive development, and research also shows omega-3 fatty acids may reduce pre-term labor. While common stresses of new motherhood – namely lack of sleep and pain – can increase the risk of post-partum depression, fish may reduce or eliminate these symptoms. There’s been some confusion about if expecting mothers can eat seafood. But, the science shows that they should eat seafood two to three times per week for these benefits. Pregnant women are advised to avoid only four rarely eaten fish – tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel. But, there is a variety of seafood available, so pregnant women have a lot of options to get the essential nutrients for themselves and their babies.
For mature adults, regular seafood consumption may decrease the risk of ADHD, dementia and diabetes, and new studies show that regular fish consumption can increase blood flow to the brain, reduce inflammation and limit the build-up of harmful plaques which precedes Alzheimer’s disease.
If you want to improve your looks inside and out, omega-3 fatty acids help support a healthy scalp (keeping hair shiny and resilient) and maintain supple skin, so eat up! Taking fish oil supplements don’t necessarily produce the same results. While supplements provide omega-3s, they don’t offer the other healthy nutrients found in fish.
Best of all, seafood meals can help you shed pounds; seafood is a lean source of protein and is dynamic when incorporated into breakfast, lunch or dinner. So, turn your beef burgers into fresh tuna burgers, your chicken quesadillas into canned tuna quesadillas, and try grilling whole fish instead of beef or ribs. Fish or shellfish can be tossed with pasta for a change of pace, and cooked or cured salmon can be scrambled into eggs. To cook a fish fillet, you can broil, bake, roast or poach it. The options are endless.
Want to know more? Visit TinaRuggiero.com for delicious recipes that will help you incorporate fish into your diet, or check out my new book, The Truly Healthy Family Cookbook, filled with inspired, super-nutritious, easy-to-make recipes that everyone will love!
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Tina Ruggiero, M.S., R.D., L.D., is a sought-after nutrition expert, spokesperson, and award-winning author. Fondly called “The Gourmet Nutritionist,” Tina is frequently seen on national TV, heard on radio, and her writing, recipes and advice have appeared in magazines and newspapers, including Men’s Health, USA Today, Family, Woman’s World and First for Women. Tina is the principle of her own nutrition consulting firm where she helps both corporations and consumers. She is also a nutrition correspondent for NBC’s syndicated television show Daytime; a special correspondent to the Tampa Tribune; and an avid cook. Tina’s blog is often cited in magazines, newspapers, and online for its reliable, accurate and inspiring content. She is the author of the bestseller, The Best Homemade Baby Food on the Planet and The Truly Healthy Family Cookbook (Page Street Press, Aug 20, 2013). You can follower Tina on Twitter.