A Healthy Diet Includes Seafood

Seafood is a healthy food choice, providing key nutrients and healthy protein for everyone from infants to adults. Seafood supplies the nutrients essential for strong bones, brain development, and healthy immune and cardiovascular systems.

Seafood is:

  • A good source of high-quality protein
  • A good source of omega-3 fatty acids
  • Low in saturated fat
  • Rich in vitamins and minerals

Nutritional Information

The recently updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2015-2020) recommend eating 8 or more ounces of seafood each week as part of a healthy diet. The benefits of seafood consumption outweigh potential food safety risks.

  • Seafood is a lower calorie, lower fat source of protein than meat and poultry. Most lean fish, such as cod and flounder, contain 100 calories per 3-ounces of cooked fish; fattier fish, such as salmon and mackerel, contain around 200 calories per 3 ounces of cooked fish. Most kinds of fish and shellfish contain less than 5 percent total fat. Plus, a 3-ounce serving of most fish or shellfish provides about one-third of the average daily recommended amount of protein.
  • Much of the fat in seafood is polyunsaturated fat, called omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are required for healthy human development and should be obtained through food. Fish and shellfish are the main dietary sources of two important omega-3 fatty acids—EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA can help reduce the risk of heart disease and contribute to healthy brain and vision development in infants, among other potential health benefits. All fish and shellfish contain some omega-3s; generally, fattier fish such as salmon and mackerel contain more omega-3s than leaner fish. For the general population, consumption of about 8 ounces per week of a variety of seafood provides an average consumption of 250 milligrams per day of EPA and DHA.
  • Seafood is a great source of vitamin D for strong bones, vitamin A for healthy eyes and skin, and vitamins C and E for a healthy immune system.
  • Seafood is a rich source of iodine, calcium, phosphorus, selenium, and other important minerals. Many ocean fish are among the best sources of selenium in our diet. Selenium has an essential function as part of the antioxidant system vital to protecting the brain and other sensitive organs. Scientific studies indicate that selenium also boosts the immune system, has anti-inflammatory effects, supplements the beneficial antioxidant effects of vitamin E, and even detoxifies mercury.

Different types of seafood offer different nutrients, so it’s best to eat a variety of seafood to ensure you receive these valuable nutrients.

What About Mercury?

Mercury is a natural element found in very small quantities in the air, water, soil, and all living things. During the past decade, concern over mercury levels in seafood has been the subject of much research and discussion, causing unwarranted alarm about all seafood and general confusion about what is safe to eat.

Researchers have found that, for most people, risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern, even though all seafood has trace amounts of mercury. The mercury levels in seafood vary widely and most species have very low amounts, usually less than one-tenth of the U.S. established guideline for the allowable level of mercury in fish and seafood products.

Follow these general guidelines to minimize risks that could be associated with mercury in seafood:

  • Pregnant and Nursing Moms. The FDA recommends that pregnant and nursing moms eat at least 8 and up to 12 ounces of a variety of seafood per week, from choices that are lower in mercury. Pregnant and nursing moms should avoid the four fish that are highest in mercury: swordfish, shark, tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, and king mackerel. Another commonly eaten fish, albacore (“white”) tuna, might have more mercury than canned light tuna. When choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week. The FDA also recommends checking local advisories for varieties of fish you catch yourself in your local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. If no advice is available, eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) per week of fish you catch from local waters, but don't consume any other fish during that week. Advisories are available from local and state health departments, as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Young Children. Because their brains are still developing, the FDA recommends that young children follow the same guidelines as pregnant and nursing moms—at least 8 and up to 12 ounces each week of seafood low in mercury. For children ages 6 months to 8 years, the USDA Food Patterns provide examples of the types and amounts of seafood to consume for health (see response #9 under Questions and Answers).
  • Everyone Else. Eat 8 or more ounces per week of a variety of seafood—with no recommendations to avoid any seafood. Dark and oily fish provide the most omega-3s, but eating a variety of seafood will provide balanced nutritional benefits and please your palate.

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