Smart Supermarket Seafood Shopping
Your complete guide to choosing and using the healthy fish varieties found in Anytown, USA.
When it comes to planning your meals, it's hard to beat seafood as a nutritional powerhouse. Seafood is rich in protein and other important nutrients. Prepared right - without frying, breading, tubs of butter or caloric sauces - it delivers these nutritional benefits without a lot of calories. Many varieties also contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
"Fish is an excellent entrée choice, extremely versatile and quick to prepare," says Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, director of Tufts’ HNRCA Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory.
Even consuming fish relatively low in omega-3s, like the tilapia or cod found in so many supermarket fish counters, has a significant nutritional upside. Simply eating a meal built around high-protein, low-calorie fish instead of cheeseburgers, pizza or other typical American fare represents a positive tradeoff.
WASTE NOT: Given the myriad health benefits associated with eating seafood, why don’t American eat more of it? We average only about 14 pounds of seafood per capita annually, compared to 90 pounds a year per Spaniard and 120 pounds a year each in Japan. A recent USDA Agricultural Research Service study of data from a national nutrition survey concluded that 80-90% of Americans fail to consume the recommended two servings of seafood each week.
Even when Americans do buy seafood, we too often wind up throwing it away instead of eating it. According to research by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, between 2009 and 2013, as much as 47% of all the edible seafood in the US went to waste. Although some of that waste can be blamed on "bycatch" - unintended consequences of large fishing nets - the majority winds up in consumer garbage cans. Total seafood waste is estimated at 2.3 billion pounds a year.
SEEKING SUSTAINABILITY: This waste is especially unfortunate given concerns about seafood and sustainability. According to the Vancouver Aquarium's Ocean Wise program <www.oceanwise.ca>, global consumption of seafood has doubled since the 1970s, with approximately 158 million tons of seafood harvested worldwide every year. That's good news for global nutrition, but puts many seafood species and fisheries at risk. An estimated 90% of all large fish have already been harvested from the world’s oceans since the inception of industrialized fishing. One recent scientific study predicted, without major changes, a worldwide ocean fisheries collapse by 2048.
If you're worried about sustainability, however, there's no reason to stop eating seafood. Ocean Wise can, as they put it, help you choose species "caught or farmed in a way that ensures the long-term health and stability of that species, as well as the greater marine ecosystem." Other such resources include the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch <www.seafoodwatch.org>, the Environmental Defense Fund's Seafood Selector <seafood.edf.org> and the Environmental Working Group's Seafood Calculator <www.ewg.org/research/ewg-s-consumer-guide-seafood/seafood-calculator>. Both aquarium programs even have apps that can turn your smartphone into sustainable-shopping tools. Note that these sources may conflict about what’s most "sustainable," and may change over time.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fish Watch site <www.fishwatch.gov> also maintains a database on seafood sustainability. The Environmental Protection Agency has advice on contaminants such as mercury <www.epa.gov/choose-fish-and-shellfish-wisely>.