Fishing for better health? Look no further than the seafood counter at your local supermarket.
For years, we’ve been hearing about the benefits of eating seafood, particularly when it comes to the connection between omega-3 fatty acids and heart health. More recently, studies have shown that eating seafood may support brain health, too, including reducing incidences of depression and boosting one's mood. In addition to being a rich source of these vital fatty acids, seafood also provides selenium, iron, B vitamins and a host of other valuable nutrients.
In terms of protein, many types of seafood have a relatively high protein-to-calorie ratio, packing in around 7 grams protein per ounce, which is similar to chicken.
Today, during the pandemic, Americans are eating more seafood than in previous decades, but a recent survey showed that only one in ten consumers meets the goal of enjoying seafood twice a week, as recommended by The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion's Dietary Guidelines. Although many people are aware of the health benefits of different types of seafood, not everyone knows which is best for their diet — or how to select the right piece of fish at the grocery store.
Other barriers related to seafood consumption include some beliefs that seafood has a higher price tag than other forms of protein (which, to be fair, is sometimes true) and confusion over the best way to cook different types of fish.
If you want to incorporate more seafood into your diet — whether it’s fresh from the seafood counter, canned or frozen — there’s a wide range of types and price points that can fit every palate, budget and lifestyle.
Here are some of my family’s favorite seafood choices, along with some easy recipes to satisfy a variety of tastebuds.
Salmon is a flavorful, fatty fish that's rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon is also a good source of vitamin D, which is important for healthy bones. The daily recommended value of vitamin D is 400 IU for adults and children ages 4 and older. A 3-ounce serving of salmon contains 570 IU of vitamin D. It’s not easy to find naturally-occurring vitamin D in a lot of foods (but you can also find it in fortified dairy and non-dairy milks) so salmon is a great choice for most people to enjoy.
Canned salmon with bones is also an excellent source of calcium and it helps enhance the absorption of vitamin D. Fish bones, you say?! Yes, it's actually perfectly fine for both kids and adults to eat the soft bones in canned fish. If you're concerned, you may further crush up the bones for kids or create salmon cakes.
Fish can be canned in water or oil; which one you choose may depend on whether you're watching your caloric or fat intake. When it comes to canned salmon, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Canned Pacific Salmon Standard of Identity actually prohibits the addition of water. Canned salmon is actually cooked in the can, so any liquid in the final product comes from the natural juices of the flesh when the salmon is cooked.
Whether you're looking to jazz up your salmon for summer barbecues or you’re just popping it in the oven, this fatty fish is a versatile choice that holds up well to a variety of marinades, sauces and preparations.
Tuna helps your heart in a variety of ways. Besides containing omega-3 fatty acids, tuna is also rich in niacin (vitamin B3), which helps lower cholesterol levels. Sushi lovers will be happy to know that fresh yellowfin tuna contains almost 16 milligrams of niacin per 3-ounce serving. Just go easy on the rice and mayo-based spicy sauces. The same amount of canned tuna boasts an impressive 11 milligrams of niacin.
While fresh yellowfin tuna steaks can often retail for over $20 a pound, canned tuna is an inexpensive way to stock up on lean protein all year long. Canned light tuna packed in water (drained) provides around 73 calories and 0.8 grams of fat for a 3-ounce serving, while the same amount of tuna canned in oil (drained) will give you 168 calories and 7 grams of fat. Looking to make a classic tuna salad? For a healthier alternative to mayo, try mixing water-packed tuna with mashed avocado, another heart-healthy food that adds a creamy compliment to any fish.
Cod is a mild-flavored fish with white flesh, similar to haddock and pollock. It's a meatier type of seafood, so it can hold up well to many different types of preparations without falling apart, and it's one of the leanest sources of protein weighing in around 15 grams for a 3-ounce serving with only 0.5 grams of fat. Cod is also an excellent source of vitamin B12, with one serving containing a little more than 30% of the recommended daily value.
Cod is like a blank canvas that pairs well with any sauce, whether you prefer a citrus-style marinade or a creamy sauce on top of a crispy fried fish sandwich.
If you don’t ditch the bones in sardines, your bones will thank you because you'll be getting about 40% of your recommended daily value of calcium per serving. Since most of us don't get enough calcium, sardines are an excellent choice for many types of diets, especially those that can't handle dairy. Sardines are also an excellent source of vitamin B12, selenium and phosphorous.
When it comes to sardines, one 3-ounce can packed in oil clocks in at around 130 calories with about 8 grams of total fat, while water-packed sardines provide 90 calories with 3 grams of fat. Sardines are delicious right out of the can, served on top of a salad or mashed on top of a crusty piece of whole grain bread with a thick slice of tomato.
Whether they're medium-sized or jumbo, shrimp brings in big benefits. You’ll pick up around 20 grams of protein from just 3 ounces of shrimp and this portion size goes a long way in recipes. Besides protein, a serving of shrimp provides all of your daily selenium needs, which helps support thyroid function, heart health, boost immunity and fight inflammation. Shrimp also provides vitamin B12, choline, copper, iodine and phosphorous.
One of the most versatile seafood proteins, shrimp can be showcased in almost any dish from around the world. Craving Italian? Serve up shrimp with some spaghetti topped with a garlic-infused tomato sauce. If you love Mexican food, shrimp make a phenomenal taco filling.
Scallops are a great source of magnesium and potassium, which are both important for heart and brain health. They also promote blood vessel relaxation, help control blood pressure and enable better blood circulation. A 3-ounce portion of scallops is only 75 calories, has around 15 grams of protein and less than a gram of fat.
Like many types of seafood, scallops don't take very long to cook and can easily be prepared in a few minutes on the stovetop. Bring out the naturally sweet, buttery taste of seared scallops with a touch of salt, pepper and avocado oil in a hot skillet. Serve over wild rice or pair them with a colorful salad. For a more decadent take, try Al Roker's bacon-wrapped scallops.
Get shucking if you’re looking to boost your iron intake. With their briny, ocean-forward flavor, oysters aren't necessarily for everyone but oyster devotees enjoy eating this delicious shellfish fried, baked and raw right out of the shell. Oysters are very rich in iron, providing about 60% of your daily needs in just one serving. You’ll also find vitamin C, vitamin E and plenty of zinc in oysters. Unlike salmon and tuna, oysters aren't always in season so check with your fishmonger about the catch of the day.
As far as prep goes, you won’t need to do much cooking when it comes to eating oysters. Most people take delight in slurping them down raw (but if you've never shucked one before, it's probably best to take a class or leave it to the pros), along with the addition of an array of tangy sauces like mignonette or cocktail ... or just a hefty squeeze of bright lemon juice.
Just 3 ounces of clams provide a whopping 84 micrograms of vitamin B12 — more than 1,400% of your recommended daily value of the vitamin. You’ll also find copper, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium and zinc in clams. Clams also provide iron and vitamin C — which all work in tandem as vitamin C helps enhance the absorption of iron.
Crispy baked clams oreganata style, topped with seasoned bread crumbs, garlic, oregano, parsley and olive oil, are always a timeless family favorite and can be served year round.
Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, is the founder of BetterThanDieting.com and author of "Read It Before You Eat It - Taking You from Label to Table." Follow her on Twitter @eatsmartbd and Instagram @bonnietaubdix.