Special to The Herald-Mail
If you grew up in Maryland, seafood as part of your diet is nothing new.
Maryland is for crabs, but there are many other reasons to include seafood in your diet. Fish and seafood contain essential oils that not only provide a flavorful and concentrated source of energy, but also a significant source of essential fatty acids.
What does it mean when a nutrient is considered essential? In simple terms, essential nutrients are those that our bodies cannot produce sufficient quantities of. In order to obtain adequate levels of these nutrients, we must consume food rich sources.
Numerous studies have proven omega-3 fatty acids to be beneficial to our health. Omega-3 fatty acids have been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol and high blood pressure, and reduce the risk of arthritis. These essential oils may also help prevent osteoporosis by improving our bodies absorption of calcium. They also aid in healthy brain development, immune system health, eye function, neurological functioning, and improvement of certain skin conditions.
Fish and seafood are excellent sources of high- quality protein that is low in saturated fat and rich in vitamins, minerals, and key nutrients. There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids. Fish and seafood provide good sources of these polyunsaturated fats, mainly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
But how do you know which fish or seafood to choose? Fish that live in cold, dark waters naturally contain higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. The fatty fishes that are riches in omega-3 fatty acids include cold water fishes such as salmon, rainbow trout, anchovies, sardines, bass, herring and tuna.
The health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are so well documented that The American Heart Association now recommends adult consumption of fish twice a week to meet minimum requirements.
Even though many varieties of fish and seafood are known to be good for your health, there is also a growing concern regarding contaminants such as mercury. Best fish and seafood choices not only are raised and caught in environmentally sound ways, but are also high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Fish that tend to have higher contamination levels include Chilean sea bass, toothfish, grouper, marlin, orange roughy, Pacific rockfish, Pacific rock cod, Atlantic salmon, shark, wild sturgeon, imported swordfish, tilefish and bluefin tuna.
In order to maximize the health benefits and minimize any risk related to contamination, be sure to choose your fish or seafood from a reputable source. Also, always be sure that the fish or seafood has been properly iced, well refrigerated, stored in clean display cases, and wrapped separately in leak-proof packaging. Frozen fish or seafood should be solid, mild in odor, and free of ice crystals. If available, always check the sell-by date.
So what if you do not like fish or seafood? How does one consume adequate levels of these essential nutrients without forcing yourself to eat foods that you do not enjoy?
There are fish oil supplements that can be taken in either a pill or liquid form, but always be sure to check with your physician or registered dietitian before taking any nutritional supplements.
There are also a number of food items that are fortified with omega-3 fatty acids including margarine and cheese. Experiment with different brands to find foods that are enjoyable and can be easily incorporated into your diet.
Melissa Tewes is the clinical nutrition manager at Meritus Medical Center. She has 16 years of experience as a registered dietitian and is also a certified personal trainer.