Seafood: Your Diet & Health

In the modern world, we are over-reliant on cereals, processed foods and vegetable oils and spreads. As a result, the typical Western diet has become deficient in nutrients that are essential to optimum health in mind and body.

We now consume an over-abundance of Omega-6s whilst our intake of Omega-3s has fallen by half. With advances in research into nutrition, there is a greater awareness of the importance of maintaining this balance.

Types of Fat in Seafood

Not all dietary fats are “bad” fats and the only real difference between fats and oils is that fats are solid at room temperature. That is why scientists term them both “lipids” to avoid confusion.

The different types of dietary fat fall into three main groups:

  • Saturated fatty acids – animal-derived “hard” fats such as butter, lard and meat fat.
  • Mono-saturated fatty acids (MUFAs) – such as olive oil.
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) – found primarily in vegetable oils such as sunflower and in seafood.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids are further divided into two sub-groups called Omega-6 and Omega-3. Both groups are essential for good health and normal growth but they are not interchangeable and they cannot be manufactured by the human body. They must be supplied by diet – hence they are referred to as “essential fatty acids” (EFAs).

Essential fatty acids are crucial components in the manufacturing and structure of all cell membranes, which regulate the workings of the cells themselves, and are therefore tied into the physiological functioning of all the bodies systems in particular the brain and nervous systems which are rich in “lipid” membranes.

Omega 3 and Omega 6 Facts

The primary sources of Omega-6s are corn, soy, canola, safflower and sunflower oil and all these are overabundant in the typical modern diet. (ARA arachidonic acid) is the principal Omega-6 in the brain although it is also plentiful in other cells throughout the body. ARA is as important as Omega-3s for proper brain development, and are obtained by eating foods such as meat, eggs and milk.

Omega-3 fatty acids are made up of ALA (alph-linolenic acid) and its most common derivatives EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). The best dietary sources of these acids are as follows:

  • ALA – flaxseed oil, rapeseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts and walnut oil, purslane, grass-reared meat and dark green leafy vegetables.
  • EPA and DHA – are found almost exclusively in aquatic plants and animals. Seafood is the only major source of important long chain PUFAs and only seafood supplies the preferred Omega-3s EPA and DHA acids in their readily usable states. These Omega-3 PUFAs begin by being synthesized by phytoplankton which are in turn consumed by fish, molluscs and crustaceans and thereby concentrated in the aquatic food chain.

Seafood grown only in colder waters, such as those around Scotland, provides a plentiful source of long chain Omega-3s and everyone should be able to meet their dietary needs by eating seafood at least twice a week.

It is also important for pregnant and nursing mothers to eat plenty of seafood. During the last third of pregnancy the developing child’s body begins accumulating DHA which is a critical component for building brain tissue, nerve growth and for the retina in the eye. After birth they obtain it from breast milk.

For vegetarians the Omega-3s must come from ALAs (alpha-linolenic acid) – such as those found in flaxseed oil, rapeseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts and walnut oil, and dark green leafy vegetables. For whatever your dietary preference, it is essential to maintain the balance between the Omega-6s and the Omega-3s in their diet.