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Food, Health, and Eco-news
New Dietary Guidelines – Eat More Seafood!
For the first time, the Feds recommend foods for toddlers - fish is on the menu for the little ones, and everyone else! 01/07/2021 by Temma Ehrenfeld

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a joint production of the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, is updated every five years. Just in time for 2021, the 2020 version – the ninth – arrived on December 29, with advice as well as an overview of how the nation actually does eat.  

You won’t be surprised to hear that most Americans don’t eat healthily. But it may surprise you that, according to this report, many Americans aren’t eating enough protein. And when we do eat protein, we tend to stick to industrial feed-lot red meat, and poultry and eggs from caged and confined feeding operations.

According to the new report, nearly 90 percent of Americans should be eating more seafood, the same portion that is falling short on vegetables.

Several dietary communities – for instance, the low-carbers, the vegans, and dairy-free fans - may find fault with the guidelines. I won't get into their objections here. The document runs a hefty 149 pages, so it would be surprising if it did not ruffle a few feathers.

But the document’s basic pro-seafood message aligns with the best modern nutrition science, as we chronicle in these pages regularly, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. At a moment when many of us are packing on our “quarantine-15”, we can’t hear too often about the power of nutrition. Better diets could save lives and cut suffering from heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and breast and colorectal cancer.

So without further ado, here are some highlights of the U.S. government’s current position on seafood as expressed in the new guidelines:  

Seafood is not only safe but encouraged for pregnant women. The guidelines urge women who are pregnant or lactating to consume at least eight and up to 12 ounces of a variety of seafood each week, from choices lowest in mercury. These amounts translate to two to three meals consisting of typical-sized servings. Low-mercury fish include (in alphabetical order): anchovy, black sea bass, catfish, clams, cod, crab, crawfish, flounder, haddock, hake, herring, lobster, mackerel, mullet, oyster, perch, pollock, salmon, sardine, scallop, shrimp, sole, squid, tilapia, freshwater trout, light tuna, and whiting. For more on seafood’s safety – and necessity – for pregnant women, see Eat 53 Pounds of Salmon in One Week?

Little ones need seafood. This edition of the guidelines is the first that provides guidelines for feeding infants and toddlers under age two. From six to 11 months especially, children need plenty of iron to feed their developing immune and nervous systems. They also need the essential omega-3 fatty acids in seafood to support the rapid brain development of the first two years of life. To accomplish this, you might follow Vital Choice Science and Health Advisor Dr. Bill Sears’ recommendation and make cooked, flaked salmon a regular part of a toddler’s finger-food tray, or puree cooked salmon or other quality seafood with mashed potatoes. Salmon is also a good natural source of vitamin D. Stick with choices low in mercury, which includes two of the most popular: shrimp and salmon. For details, see FDA.gov/fishadvice and EPA.gov/fishadvice.  

Teenage girls need more protein, especially seafood. Girls ages 14 to 18 eat less protein than boys do, and tend to be low in iron, folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12. They should be encouraged to eat eight to ten ounces of seafood a week.

Twenty-somethings need calcium and vitamin D. Bone mass is still accruing during your twenties, a process that requires calcium and vitamin D. Salmon is high in both nutrients. Sardines are high in calcium; tuna and mackerel in vitamin D. Like other adults, people in their twenties should be eating at least eight ounces of seafood a week.  

Women need calcium and vitamin D after menopause. This is the time when your bones can deteriorate if you don’t maintain them with muscle-building exercise and good nutrition, including seafood.

Seniors need more variety in their protein. The guidelines recommend at least eight to 10 ounces of seafood a week for Americans age 60 and over. Using seafood in place of meat, poultry, or eggs for at least some meals offers a wider range of nutrients, and variety in taste that can keep protein consumption at healthy levels.

As I mentioned earlier, there is some controversy about the report. Although an advisory panel of scientists had recommended that the guidelines encourage Americans to stick to one alcoholic drink a day, the government didn’t alter the current advice. The new guidelines, like the old, recommend a limit of two drinks a day for men, and one for women. The panel also advised cutting back the added sugar limits. Again, the guidelines didn’t change, but the report does clearly present the case against added sugar.

Controversy dogged the previous eight versions of these guidelines, so it is to be expected in this ninth edition as well. The guidelines process has multiple forces, both scientific and political, buffeting it. We don’t envy the writers who have to navigate those stormy waters. We’re just glad that excellent advice about seafood, especially as it pertains to babies and toddlers who can experience the largest lifetime benefit, made it to safe harbor – and trust Americans will be healthier for it!  

Sources:

Dietary Guidelines for Americans. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/. Published December 2020.

Rabin RC. U.S. Diet Guidelines Sidestep Scientific Advice to Cut Sugar and Alcohol. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/29/health/dietary-guidelines-alcohol-sugar.html. Published December 29, 2020.

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