October is National Seafood Month and I don’t know about you, but I’ve had seafood on my mind. It looks like I’m not alone, because when I partnered with Seafood Nutrition Partnership for a Q&A session about seafood nutrition earlier this month, you guys had a ton of great seafood questions! I thought it would be nice to gather up the most common ones I received and create a resource to refer back to.
I’m fortunate in my role as a private practice dietitian to be able to work with people and their families. They’re just like me, trying to get dinner on the table after a long day and make the best food choices for their families that they can. They often ask about some of the same things and I’ve collected some reliable resources over the years that I’d love to share with you, too.
So if you’ve been curious about cooking fish and seafood, the nutrition or safety of seafood, or what a dietitian shops for, read on for answers to some of the most common seafood questions!
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Can I get the same benefits from fish if it’s fresh, frozen, or canned?
This is one of the most common seafood questions. And the answer is fortunately, YES! There is little or no nutritional difference between fresh, frozen, and canned seafood. We are lucky to have a abundance of options that fit many budgets. Plus, for most of us here in the US, it’s not always practical or affordable to purchase fresh seafood. In fact, frozen or canned options are actually what I prefer because it’s often less expensive and better quality than some of the fresh options where I shop.
What does the science say about Omega-3s?
It’s no secret that seafood can pack a punch when it comes to nutrition. It’s included in the diets of the some of the healthiest populations around the world and many cultures have a long history of enjoying seafood in traditional diets. So there’s been a lot of attention on omega-3s and there’s a huge body of research out there. In fact, omega-3s are one of the most studied nutrients of all! Here’s a quick rundown of what we know about the benefits of omega-3s:
- Heart Health: Enjoying seafood on a regular basis can help lower blood pressure, decrease triglyceride levels, and increase consumption of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Brain Health: Seafood is a rich source of EPA and DHA, the fatty acids that can be protective for brain health in adults and support healthy brain development in infants and children. That’s why it’s recommended that pregnant women meet the recommended intake for seafood (two servings per week) to support a healthy pregnancy.
- Depression and Mood: There appears to be a link between high consumption of seafood and lower rates of depression in cultures that eat a lot of fish. Omega-3s may also help with depression and other mood disorders, but more research is needed and supplements should not be considered a primary treatment.
You’ll likely see a lot of claims about omega-3s but keep in mind that we don’t always have all the answers. Nutrition science is always changing as new research comes out, so if you have questions or want to learn more, reach out to a dietitian or explore some of these resources:
Which fish is highest in Omega-3s?
This is another one of the most common seafood questions. Here’s one resource from Seafood Nutrition Partnership that highlights some species of fish that are good sources of omega-3s:
But don’t feel like you should always try to choose fish that are on the higher end of the spectrum. We can also source omega-3s, EPA, and DHA from other foods in our diet, although in smaller amounts. There are also plant-based options from nuts and seeds, avocados, all great options to include whether you follow a plant-based diet or not.
Do I need an Omega-3 supplement?
This is a tough one to answer because it depends. And I know that answer is likely not what you’re looking for, but it’s true. I use a “food first” approach and aim to get most of my nutrition from my plate, not a supplement. But there are times when nutrition needs change or it’s difficult to get 100% of your daily nutrition from food. In those times, a high quality supplement can help fill the gaps. Just remember that a supplement should be just that – supplemental to your diet. There are pros and cons to each approach, just like with everything else in life. Supplements can be helpful for people who can’t or don’t consume seafood. Allergies are a concern for some and other people choose to eat a plant-based or vegan diet. So while the option is there, it doesn’t mean it’s automatically the best choice for everyone or something that everyone needs to include.
NOTE: This information is not intended to provide personalized nutrition or medical advice. If you’re curious about targeted supplementation, reach out to a registered dietitian who can work with you to create a unique plan that fits you.
How To Cook Seafood
How do I know when fish is done cooking?
Fish and seafood should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees F for food safety. If using a kitchen thermometer to check temperature, insert the probe of the thermometer into the thickest part of the fish you’re cooking. Go in from the side, not from the top and you’ll get the most accurate reading.
If you don’t have a kitchen thermometer (which I recommend having for cooking in general!) you can also base doneness on appearance and texture. Raw fish will appear translucent. As it cooks, it becomes more opaque. Look for a flaky texture as well – fish that’s fully cooked with flake easily and pull apart from the fillet. You can use a fork to test this. Just take your fork and poke the top of the thicket part of your fish. Give it a gentle twist so you can get a peek at the color inside, as well as seeing how flaky it is. If it needs a little more time, pop it back in for a few more minutes and you’ll be good to go.
Another really easy rule of thumb for baking fish? The ten-minute rule. This is a fool-proof way to avoid over- or under-cooking your fish. Simple bake for ten minutes per one inch of thickness. For me, this usually means I’m only baking 10-15 minutes. Which means it can be really easy to get dinner on the table in less than 20 minutes!
Which fish should I start with if I’m new to eating seafood?
I love this question because it’s always exciting whenever someone wants to explore their options! And there are so many to choose from. I think most people that are hesitant to add more seafood are wary of the fishy taste, so I usually recommend starting with white fish. This is a category of fish that’s less “fishy” tasting because of a lower fat content. Fat carries flavor, so oily fish such as salmon have a much different taste and texture. Here are some varieties of fish that might be a good place to start:
- Cod, halibut, or tilapia
- Freshwater fish like trout or catfish
- Tuna from cans or pouches
Seafood like shellfish or crustaceans are another good place to start if you don’t enjoy fish. Shrimp or scallops can be less intimidating because of their smaller size. If you don’t want to commit to a full serving, you can just test the waters (see what I did there?) with a piece or two. And of course, there’s always crab and lobster that are usually served in really yummy ways with lots of butter for flavor or sauces for dipping.
Here’s some other ideas:
- Maybe don’t start with something like mussels or oysters – the texture and appearance might not be the most encouraging for newbies….but they’re still delicious and might be something you enjoy later
- Tinned or canned fish can be really affordable, but might also be intimidating. Sardines and anchovies, as nutritious as they are, might not have a lot of appeal if you’re cautious about eating fish that still looks like…you know…a fish. But keep an open mind, there is great taste and nutrition to be had by expanding your options!
How do I get my fish to taste better?
One of my favorite seafood questions!! There are subtle differences in the taste and texture of fish and that can help guide your culinary adventures in the kitchen. Here’s a preview of a section from my cookbook, “The Pescatarian Cookbook”, that can help with this question. Consider these five things when building delicious flavor in a recipe with fish or seafood:
- Cooking Method: Smoking, grilling, and baking fish yield very different flavors. Experiment with how you prepare your favorite fish to refresh your routine.
- Crank the Heat: No, not the spice level! Simply try to serve your hot entrees hot. As food cools, it’s less likely to carry aromas into your mouth and nasal cavity. By serving your meal immediately, you enhance your awareness of flavor without adding a single ingredient.
- Season Early: Flavor blooms in a dish when elements cook together. You can create more balance between salt, fat, acidity, and sweetness when you introduce seasonings earlier in the cooking process versus adding just before serving.
- Keep an Open Mind: You may see ingredients in these recipes that make you question whether they belong. But heat, acid, and time change how flavors interact so don’t be afraid to experiment. Trust your taste buds to let you know whether it’s worth repeating.
- Savor the Moment: Mindfulness is often the final ingredient needed to create harmony in a meal. Regardless of how a dish is prepared or seasoned, tuning into your enjoyment of the eating experience leaves a lasting impression.
I also recommend kitchen resources like The Flavor Bible. This book really is like my bible in the kitchen because it helps me find flavor pairings that are going to compliment, not clash with, my main ingredient. It’s also great when creativity is low because I’m often in a rut with using the same things over and over. I highly recommend this book!
Seafood Safety and Quality
Is it OK to buy fish that isn’t wild-caught?
In my humble opinion, yes. There are many different ways to source seafood and fish. Not all of them are environmentally friendly, so I definitely recommend doing your homework to make sure your choices align with what you feel is most important. But not all farmed fish is bad and not all wild caught fish is good. I like to use Fish Watch and Seafood Watch (which also has an app!) to guide my choices when I’m shopping.
What about mercury? Is it safe to eat tuna?
The real risk is actually eating too little fish, not too much. But mercury concerns are valid and something to be aware of. It’s rare to see mercury toxicity from seafood consumption but it does happen if someone were to only eat high-mercury fish. Mercury is a neurotoxin so definitely something to watch out for to avoid some serious side effects. Here are four common species to be aware of:
- King Mackerel
- White or albacore tuna
Just be aware that mercury is found in low or trace amounts in most fish, not just these four species. It is ingested as part of their natural diets and accumulates in the flesh. However, the guidelines to consume eight to twelve ounces of fish per week are established as safe levels of intake. Advisories are also issued through state and local health departments and the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) if there is concern for high mercury levels in local or domestic fish.
For pregnant women, Big Eye Tuna (like the type used in sushi) is the one to avoid. Otherwise, there is no risk to using tuna as an option to get your recommended two servings of seafood per week!
For more answers to your seafood questions about seafood nutrition, a pescatarian diet, or recipes to inspire your next meal, check out “The Pescatarian Cookbook”. It’s available now on Amazon and will make a great addition to anyone’s kitchen if they want to enjoy fish and seafood more often!
And while you’re here, don’t forget about the Seafood Pledge! Take the pledge to enjoy your recommended two servings of seafood per week along with me. It’s an easy step to adding more nutrition and flavor to your routine meals!
And of course, share this post with anyone else with seafood questions! Pin this post for later or share to Facebook or Twitter.