Published on March 07, 2016

Don’t be afraid to get hooked on seafoodDon’t be afraid to get hooked on seafood

Scared of sharks? That makes sense. Afraid of flounder? Surprisingly, a lot of people are, when it comes to buying it and cooking it.

And that’s a problem, because if you’re not including fish and shellfish in your diet on a regular basis, you’re missing out on some important dietary benefits, according to Courtney Driscoll-Shea, clinical nutrition manager at Cape Cod Healthcare.

In a recent nutrition study conducted by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, most adult Americans ate seafood at least once a month, but 80 to 90 percent ate less than the recommended amount of at least 8 ounces per week recently.

“Fish is very low in fat and cholesterol, so it’s good for a heart-healthy-diet,” Driscoll-Shea said. “It’s high in protein, and most are high in omega-3 fatty acids.”

“A great deal of work remains to move Americans toward seafood consumption at current recommended levels,” the authors of USDA study wrote. The research looked at eating habits by sex, age group, income and education level. Those who ate less (or no) seafood were women, young adults (ages 19 to 30), and people of lower income and education levels.

According to USDA recommendations, seafood should provide about one-fifth of a person’s weekly protein.

People on Cape Cod and the islands are fortunate to have year-round access to fresh seafood, said Driscoll-Shea.

“The best place to buy it is straight off the boat, or as close to that as you can,” she said. “Local fish markets can help you choose a good seasonal fish and also can give cooking tips.”

Driscoll-Shea prefers seafood recipes that are quick and easy.

“I grill it with a little olive oil and some seasonings or bake it in the oven at 400 degrees. You don’t need to add a lot to it. Baking and grilling will help bring out the flavor.”

Some people complain that seafood can be more expensive than some other meats, but different fish vary widely in price, she said. Frozen fish is often a less costly option, and firmer fish and shellfish are the best options for frozen seafood.

According to the USDA study, intake of seafood in the US varies by age, income, and education level but not by race-ethnicity. Of those surveyed, 74 percent reported consuming fish each month and 54 percent ate shellfish. But, among those who reported eating seafood, the average amount eaten of any seafood was about 5.5 ounces per week. The USDA suggests at least 8 ounces a week.

A recent article in the Washington Post referred to the study and offered reassurances to people who fear mercury in fish or are uncertain about how to select and prepare fish. Fish is naturally rich in the mineral selenium, which, helps neutralize mercury’s effects. Fish that are low in mercury include salmon, shrimp, pollock, light canned tuna, tilapia, catfish, cod, sardines, sole and trout.

The Post article featured registered dietitian Ellie Krieger, who is the author of the cookbook, “You Have It Made: Delicious, Healthy, Do-Ahead Meals.” According to her, frozen and canned seafood are options to consider.

“Frozen fish and shellfish are a great bargain and convenient to have on hand. And because they are flash-frozen right after being caught, they are sometimes ‘fresher’ than the fish at the counter. Canned or pouched fish such as tuna, salmon and sardines are also a convenient and economical way to get more fish into your life, and they boast the same health benefits as fresh fish – just keep an eye on sodium and choose low-salt varieties or hold off on adding salt to recipes that use them.”

The USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion launched a board on Pinterest that highlights healthful seafood recipes from a variety of sources.