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Seafood and the Mediterranean Diet

Conveniently close to the Mediterranean sea, it’s no surprise that people in the Mediterranean eat mostly locally sourced seafood. Seafood, both fish and shellfish, are consumed several times per week. But how much should you eat?

Researchers out of the University of Florence in 2013 found that about 20 and 25 grams of fish (about 4 ounces) per day is the average consumed by the Mediterranean people. But you can reap benefits from including a 4-ounce serving just two or three days per week. Consider seafood a Mediterranean super food, as long as you choose wisely.

Underscoring the benefits of seafood

The main benefit of seafood comes from its omega-3 fatty acid content. Most Americans aren’t getting enough of this essential fatty acid, and because your body doesn’t make it itself, you need to eat it in your diet.

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the two main types of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish like tuna and salmon. These fatty acids are easier for your body to use compared to the plant-based omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA is found in nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, green leafy vegetables, and fortified products and is converted by the body into EPA and DHA so that it can be used.

Omega-3 fatty acids’ health benefits include the following:

  • Reducing inflammation in the body, in the blood vessels, and in the joints, thereby reducing symptoms of arthritis, like stiffness and joint pain

  • Lowering the risk for depression and possibly boosting the effects of antidepressants

  • Improving visual and neurological development of infants in utero

  • Possibly lowering triglycerides and reducing the risk for heart disease

  • Possibly reducing your risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia

The health benefits of seafood don’t stop at omega-3 fatty acids. Seafood is a great source of protein and has all the necessary amino acids. In fact, more people globally rely on protein from the sea rather than protein from poultry, cattle, or sheep. You also get vitamins and minerals from seafood, such as vitamins A and C, magnesium, phosphorus, and selenium, to name a few.

Choosing the best seafood

Naturally, the fresher, the better when it comes to the quality and taste of seafood, but unless you’re a fisherman or caught the fish yourself, determining how fresh it is can be a challenge. The table outlines what to look for when you’re buying fish at the store or supermarket.

Choosing the Best Quality Seafood
Fish Part or Type Tips for the Choosing the Best Quality
Eyes Choose whole fish with clear and bright eyes to ensure you’re getting the freshest possible fish.
Flesh Flesh, like eye color, fades with age and becomes more dull. The flesh on fresh fish has a metallic and shiny hue.
Gills When looking at whole fish, their gills should be bright red, not dark red.
Live fish When purchasing lobster or crab or any other live seafood, the more movement, the better. Check with the owner of the fish market when the new shipments come in to ensure the fish is fresh.
Frozen fish Although you can purchase frozen fish to retain freshness, especially if you live far from the sea, be aware that not all fish freezes well — oily fish, for example, doesn’t freeze well. Great options for frozen fish include flash-frozen whole shrimp, octopus, squid, vacuum-packed scallops, tilapia, sole, and snapper.
Liquid in fish packaging If the liquid is milky, pass on it. If you see liquid around the fish, it’s okay; just make sure it’s clear.

Here are some other tips to keep in mind when you’re buying fish:

  • A fish market should smell like fish, but it shouldn’t smell like low tide. If it does, consider purchasing your fish elsewhere. Same goes for the fish itself. If it smells pungent, it’s past its prime, and cooking or adding sauces won’t do anything to solve that.

  • If you don’t have access to a fish market and live far away from the sea, avoid non-frozen shellfish. It won’t be fresh, and you’re better off with choosing frozen varieties or fish for quality meat.

  • Smoked and canned fish travel well, but they may be higher in sodium. Nevertheless, they may be worth it because they stay fresh for a relatively long time, and they still provide the health benefits that fish offer. Try

  • Smoked salmon or whitefish

  • Canned European tuna, sardines, or anchovies

  • Water-packed tuna or salmon in cans or pouches

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