Why You Should Be Eating More Seafood

Steering clear of fish for environmental and health reasons? The bigger risk might be not getting enough of it.

 

On a recent night out at an Arlington restaurant, Linda Cornish asked her server which fish dish he’d suggest, though she was already leaning toward a blueberry-sauced salmon on the menu. His response reminded her why she does what she does for a living.

“He said, ‘Oh, I don’t eat seafood. You know…because of the mercury,’ ” Cornish recalls later, sitting in the Rosslyn headquarters of the Seafood Nutrition Partnership, the national nonprofit she founded in 2013. Mercury in fish is an oft-cited concern for all kinds of people, she says, even though the decade-old warning about consuming it was intended for children and pregnant women, and applied to only a few types of fish. “I looked at him and thought, ‘But you’ll never be pregnant.’ ”

Federal nutrition guidelines recommend eating seafood twice a week as a source of both lean protein and the omega-3 fatty acids our bodies cannot produce on their own. These acids are the building blocks of our brains, hearts and eyes, and can reduce the risk of serious ailments such as cancer and heart disease.

Eating seafood doesn’t just add variety to the average diet. Harvard researchers have found that it also reduces the risk of dying from heart disease by 36 percent.

Still, surveys by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention find that just 1 in 10 Americans meet the recommended weekly intake.

Price resistance and stubborn perceptions about seafood may be partly to blame. Grocery shoppers may swing by the fish counter, see fresh scallops on sale at $20 per pound—and opt for pork instead. Some are overwhelmed by the variety of choices, confusion over which kinds of fish are the most sustainable, or an outsize fear of food poisoning.

Others who’ve gotten past those hurdles and tried their hand at a whole-fish dish at home may find the bones or scales off-putting. A bad clam or an overcooked grouper at a restaurant has been known to convince a few folks to steer clear of sea creatures altogether.

“A lot of restaurants and chefs don’t know how to cook seafood properly, so a lot of our guests don’t, either,” says Jennifer Carroll, who until recently was the executive chef at Requin, a French-Mediterranean restaurant in the Mosaic District that serves choices like catfish, cod, salmon, dorado, crab, oysters, mussels, tuna and octopus. “They haven’t had a good experience with seafood and automatically say, ‘I don’t like it.’ ”

Carroll became a seafood savant early in her career while cooking under chef Eric Ripert of New York City’s acclaimed Le Bernadin. She now sees it as her mission to get more diners aboard the proverbial boat by demonstrating the wonders of a fish’s natural flavor and texture when it’s properly prepared.

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