A balanced and varied diet is important for good health. Here seafood has a natural role, in the same way as fruit and vegetables. Nevertheless, our consumption of fish is still too low, despite the strong case that can be made for eating more.

The report ”Norwegian Dietary Trends in 2009” published by the Norwegian Directorate of Health gives a picture of the nutritional situation in Norway. The report states that we eat less fish than we should. By changing our eating habits, to include more fish and less food containing saturated fat, and taking more exercise, we can help to prevent lifestyle-related diseases such as obesity, heart attacks and diabetes 2.

Livar Frøyland, head of research in the Programme for Seafood and Health at the National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research (NIFES) in Bergen, is engaged in documenting the health effects of eating seafood.

– The health effects of seafood consumption is a major research area where we are focused on seafood as a whole and not just the individual nutrients present in fish, says Frøyland.

– Until now, the health effects of eating fish, and especially fatty fish, have largely been linked to  marine omega-3 fatty acids, which we know have a positive effect on cardiac and vascular diseases. On this basis, the conclusions reached in the report ”A comprehensive  assessment of fish and other seafood in the Norwegian diet” published by the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety included the view that the positive effects of eating seafood outweigh the negative effects. However, marine omega-3 fatty acids are only one of many nutrients provided by seafood, says Frøyland.

Better nutritional status

The health effects of seafood as a whole and not just from individual nutrients, is a large and challenging area of research.

Many different instruments are used to measure the level of nutrients in seafood. Kathrin Gjerdevik is using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) to measure the content of vitamins in seafood

A good nutritional status is one of the basic requirements for good health, and it can be measured in blood.

When you eat fish and other seafoods your nutritional status improves. A good nutritional status is one of several basic requirements for good health, since it ensures that we receive sufficient amounts of nutrients throughout a week. The levels of several nutrients can be measured in the blood. The nutritional status can also be increased for any nutrient by taking an additional supplement of, for example, marine omega-3 fatty acids or vitamin D. This is a relevant course of action in some phases of life, or for those who are allergic to seafood.

– It is not the case that everyone needs to take a supplement. When we consume seafood we receive many important nutrients. This is because seafood is a unique combination of many vital nutrients such as iodine, vitamin D, omega-3 and fish proteins which occur naturally in only small quantities in other foods. If you eat seafood, the body will benefit from the combined effect of these nutrients, says Frøyland.

– A combination of this kind is especially beneficial for those who eat little or no fish, and those who have a poor nutritional status will benefit greatly. The body’s nutritional status can be rapidly improved by eating a meal of fish or a mackerel sandwich.

– You can choose between a vast range of seafood alternatives, and for most people the choice is only limited by their imagination, their taste preferences and what they prefer to eat, says Frøyland.

When you make room for seafood on your plate, you are at the same time replacing it with other foods,  perhaps fatty food products containing a large amount of saturated fat which we eat too much of, according to the Norwegian Directorate of Health. A decision not to consume something will also play a role in changing both your nutritional status and your diet as a whole. It is easy to forget this, but it is a very important point.

– According to the World health Organisation, a varied and balanced diet is one of the main factors that can prevent lifestyle-related conditions such as obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis and mental health problems.

Seafood, trials and effects

Until now, the marine omega-3 fatty acids have been the basis of the documented positive health effects of seafood. New research indicates that seafood can also contribute to the prevention of diabetes 2, among other things.

– We have carried out some studies in this area and the results are promising. Among the findings are indications that fish proteins can reduce abdominal fat and lead to enhanced regulation of blood sugar among rats, while a diet rich in fish has also been shown to play a role in preventing multiple sclerosis among rats.

– Previous studies have also shown that there may be a link between seafood in the diet and mental health. We are collaborating with a number of different research environments to determine whether seafood affects the behaviour of prison inmates, and whether it improves the learning abilities of children and reduces post-natal depression.

– There are many possibilities, but as only a small number of studies have been carried out and there are few scientific articles dealing with the health effects of consuming seafood in general, the seafood has been left in the starting blocks, while  food supplements is racing ahead. Fish comprises many positive elements. Why, then, should we be satisfied with supplements when we can eat a complete package?

 

Contact: Livar Frøyland, Head of Research, Department of Seafood and Health, NIFES Telephone: +4748185032 E-mail: lfr@nifes.no/

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