by Craig Weatherby
Feel good about eating fish... it’s just what an expert panel promotes to boost Americans’ health.
On June 15, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended some smart updates to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines issued in 2005.
Seafood featured prominently in the changes the expert panel urged for the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines.
The committee concluded that Americans—including pregnant and lactating women—eat too little seafood and should be encouraged to eat more for optimal child development and better heart health in adults.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) was established jointly by the US Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS).
The DGAC consists of 13 independent university-affiliated experts in nutrition and health, and they presented a clear picture:
“On average, Americans of all ages consume too few vegetables, fruits, high-fiber whole grains, low-fat milk and milk products, and seafood and they eat too much added sugars, solid fats, refined grains, and sodium.”
And the experts stressed that the goal is to replace unhealthful foods with healthier choices, rather than add healthier foods to poor diets:
“Reducing the intake of SoFAS [added sugars and solid fats] can lead to a badly needed reduction in energy intake and inclusion of more healthful foods into the total diet.”
(We think they should have noted the weakness of the alleged link between saturated animal fats and heart disease, which is increasingly losing evidentiary ground to other factors, including diet-driven inflammation related to sugars and to excess omega-6 intake from common vegetable oils other than olive and other hi-oleic oils.)
The DGAC’s report describes four major findings that emerged from the DGAC’s review of the scientific evidence and articulates the steps all Americans should adopt:
- Reduce the incidence and prevalence of overweight and obesity of the US population by reducing overall calorie intake and increasing physical activity.
- Shift food intake patterns to a more plant-based diet that emphasizes vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. In addition, increase the intake of seafood and fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products and consume only moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry, and eggs.
- Significantly reduce intake of foods containing added sugars and solid fats because these dietary components contribute excess calories and few, if any, nutrients. In addition, reduce sodium intake and lower intake of refined grains, especially refined grains that are coupled with added sugar, solid fat, and sodium.
- Meet the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
Fortunately, the DGAC team finally gave seafood its due for health and safety, declaring that the benefits of increased seafood intake clearly outweigh the risks, which are limited to a few specific fish.
Experts recommend specific seafood intakes
The beneficial changes the committee recommended included consuming two servings of seafood per week (4 oz per serving) that provide an average of 250 mg of omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) per day.
For comparison, consider the approximate omega-3 contents of some popular species:
- King salmon—2,300 mg
- Albacore tuna (smaller, troll-caught)—1,800 mg
- Sablefish (black cod)—1,600 mg
- Silver salmon—1,300 mg
- Sockeye salmon (frozen or canned)—1,200 mg
- Sardines—1,000 mg
- Mussels—740 mg
- Alaskan halibut—500 mg
- Pacific Cod—480 mg
- Shrimp—360 mg
We would quibble a bit with the modesty of the omega-3 intake recommendation (250 mg per day), since the world’s leading fatty acid researchers – the International Society for Study of Fats & Lipids, whose London conference we just attended – recommend 660mg of omega-3s per day.
Panel supports safety of eating almost any seafood frequently
We found it encouraging that the experts on the DGAC followed the evidence on seafood risks and benefits, which clearly shows that the benefits of eating more seafood than the average American far outweigh the risks.
They agree with the U.S. EPA and FDA that the risks remain limited to frequent consumption of a few large ocean fish species—shark, swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel (not our small Portuguese chub mackerel)—and fresh water fish that are the subject of local mercury warnings.
Here’s how the committee put it:
- “The health benefits from consuming a variety of cooked seafood outweigh the risks associated with exposure to methyl mercury and persistent organic pollutants, provided that the types and sources of seafood to be avoided by some consumers are clearly communicated to consumers.”
- “Overall, consumers can safely eat at least 12 oz. of a variety of cooked seafood per week provided they pay attention to local seafood advisories and limit their intake of large, predatory fish.”
- “Women who may become or who are pregnant, nursing mothers, and children ages 12 and younger can safely consume a variety of cooked seafood in amounts recommended by this Committee while following Federal and local advisories.”
Given the documented eco-problems with many salmon and shrimp farms, we were impressed that they stressed sustainability in their recommendation to make ample seafood intake affordable at all income levels:
“Develop safe, effective, and sustainable practices to expand aquaculture and increase the availability of seafood to all segments of the population.”
All in all, the new recommendations represent a solid victory for science and common sense.
We hope that the USDA and HHA actually adopt them, in the face of certain political pressure from mega-sized companies, which produce highly profitable junk food.
- Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 (DGAC). Executive Summary. June 15, 2010. Accessed at http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/DietaryGuidelines/2010/DGAC/Report/A-ExecSummary.pdf
- USDA Office of Communications (USDA). Public Comment Period Opens on Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report Public Meeting Slated for July 8, 2010. June 15, 2010. Accessed at http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/DietaryGuidelines/2010/DGAC/Report/PressReleaseDGACReport.txt