Confusing media coverage has forced many consumers into a love-hate relationship with seafood. On one hand, there are the health benefits of lean proteins and Omega 3’s being shouted from the rooftops. Studies have shown that eating more seafood can reduce the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s and even depression. But on the other hand, warnings of health risks potentially caused by seafood contaminants, such as mercury, PCBs and now even microplastics can leave consumers worried they might be having too much of a good thing.
As franken-fishy as those contaminants sound, they occur in miniscule amounts and there is a growing consensus that the health benefits of eating seafood outweigh the risks. Unless you are eating big top-predator fish like tuna and swordfish more than a couple times a week, you have no need for concern. In the FDA’s 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, they recommend eating about 8 ounces of seafood, or approximately 2 servings per week. A new consumer trend report by Technomic shows that many Americans are taking the FDA’s advice and adopting more seafood and vegetable based diets.
According to the report, 18% of respondents in a survey of 1,700 consumers said they follow a “specialty diet” and most of these are flexible diets like “semivegetarian” and “flexitarian.” Also, 45% of respondents reported eating more seafood with the specific goal of eating healthier. And apparently the restaurant industry is catching on—69% of the top 500 chain restaurants offer at least one seafood menu item. It is important to keep in mind that many of these menu items are prepared using methods that may reduce their health benefits. Unfortunately, anything breaded and deep fried is going to lose some nutritional value.
In a recent press release Mark Yonke, the manager of consumer insights at Technomic highlighted some of the implications of their findings: “This desire for flexibility highlights the fact that dietary lifestyle choices are often not all-or-nothing decisions for consumers. Semivegetarian and flexitarian diets appeal to those who aspire to eat healthier while still providing leeway to splurge on meat or seafood occasionally.” In other words, when it comes to eating meat, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
I was surprised to see that 20% of consumers surveyed strongly agreed that if kelp (a kind of seaweed) was offered to them, they would be “very likely” to order it as a plant-based seafood. When kelp products first came on the scene in the U.S., I was sure consumers wouldn’t be game. Why? Because many Americans don’t like fish that taste “fishy,” we prefer species with more bland flavors like tilapia and shrimp. As Americans are introduced to different foods, like the rise of sushi for example, perhaps we will be more willing to step outside of the box with our choices.