Monday, March 11, 2013

Rant: Stop Worrying, Seafood is Safe

Fishes live in the sea, as men do a-land; the great ones eat up the little ones.
--William Shakespeare

I still see far too many stories in the media warning of the dangers of seafood consumption because of mercury and PCBs. Previously, I tried to show the truth, in my post Eat More Fish! Significant Health Benefits. Yet it seems people still are not listening. They need to stop worrying and embrace seafood because it is safe and the potential health benefits far outweigh any limited risk.

On the first day of the International Boston Seafood Show, I was pleased to see a conference on Debunking the Risk Myths: Seafood's Success Story. The conference was supposed to mention the health benefits of regular seafood consumption as well as to discuss how to educate consumers about the truth. Overall, it was an informative session, supporting my previous facts about seafood health and discussing numerous methods to educate and inform consumers. At the most basic, it is the consumer that needs to be convinced that seafood is safe and healthy, especially considering the often greater cost of seafood.

Dr. Roger Clemens of the USC School of Pharmacy began the discussion and indicated that he had been involved in the creation of the government's Dietary Guidelines. He went over some of the thought processes and analysis that went into the creation of the guidelines concerning seafood. First, determining and defining the questions is the first major step. He provided an acronym, PICO, for the analysis, which means Population, Intervention, Comparison & Outcome. The outcome needs to be clinically relevant, have biological significance and be translated into public policy.

After all of the evidence and analysis, they determined that modest consumption of seafood (about 250-500 mg of EPA & DHA) is associated with a reduced risk of Coronary Health Disease, though increased consumption did not provide any additional benefit. The basic guideline then was a recommendation of two servings (3-5 ounces each) per week of seafood. That amount will differ based on the type of seafood which is consumed, whether it is high or low in Omega-3s. It is best to eat a balanced seafood diet, only rarely eating the accumulator fish, those most prone to mercury/PCBs. He also encourages pregnant women and women who are nursing to eat seafood too, for the health of their baby.

Dr. Michael Morrissey, Director at the Oregon State University Food Innovation Center, started by noting that there is much conflicting evidence concerning the safety of seafood consumption. The key to resolving this problem is proper communication, and science-based information must form that basis. Consumers noted that they like to receive their information from brochures as well as the Internet. He continued to explain the development of the Seafood Health Facts website, which was launched in February 2012.

I have previously explored that website and found it to be an excellent reference for facts on seafood and health. I highly recommend that you check it out, and you can even use it to customize personal guidelines for your own seafood consumption.

Dr. Morrissey also mentioned that the main health risk from seafood is exposure to pathogens, and not mercury of PCBs. That means that basic food safety knowledge is vital when preparing and eating seafood.

Doris Hicks, a Seafood Technology Specialist from the University of Delaware, discussed how to frame the message about seafood. Consumers lack plenty of information about the safety of seafood and they need to learn the truth. She also believes that seafood consumption needs to be personalized for everyone, considering every relevant factor. Are you eating at home or at a restaurant? Did you catch the fish yourself? What type of fish do you eat? How often? What is your condition? And more more questions. All of these questions designed to create the safest plan for your seafood consumption.

Linda Cornish, the Executive Director of the Seafood Foundation, is part of the Seafood Nutrition Partnership, a group dedicated to raising public awareness of the safety of seafood consumption. I chuckled when she announced, "I am not a scientist but I am a nerd." She started by mentioning that heart disease is the #1 killer of women, a major reason why women should be eating seafood. It is the #1 killer overall, taking nearly 600,000 people each year. The U.S. pays a great deal of money every year on health care, including on preventable diseases. That could be saved if more people ate seafood and lowered their chances of coronary health disease.

Just eating eight ounces of seafood each week can reduce your chance of heart disease by 36%. In addition, if women avoid, or eat very little seafood, while they are pregnant, that could have detrimental effects on the health and growth of the child. Why wouldn't you want to eat seafood with such benefits?

Linda further mentioned a study where it was shown that the media writes far more stories about the alleged risks of seafood as opposed to the potential benefits. 90% of the seafood consumed in the U.S. comes from 10 types of seafood, and none of them include those few species which might pose a danger to a pregnant woman, such as swordfish, tile fish, shark and king mackerel. It was also shown in another study that only about 22% of the population eats seafood at least twice a week, the recommended amount.

So many people need to be convinced to eat more seafood and it is a tough battle to convince them that it is safe to do so, especially with the media highlighting the risks, far out of proportion to the actual risk that exists. However, it is a worthy benefit as not only will it help each individual person, but their better health with help our entire society through reduced healthcare costs.

Stop worrying. Seafood is not only safe but it is extremely beneficial.


Thomas Siebertz said...

Excellent article, I completely agree. People need to start realizing how good seafood is for them. I get to eat a lot because of my job but I have also started buying it at the store. It's expensive but I've cut out other things from the list so I can pickup some Salmon or Tuna at least once a week. The fried stuff should only be eaten on occasion but I love that a lot of companies are coming out with grilled items.

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks Thomas! People really need to wake up to all the benefits of seafood, and stop worrying so much about the short term cost.

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