Andy Gray asks: are we all getting it at least twice a week?

As consumers, we are all well versed on the instructions to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day as part of a healthy diet. Further advice, which is sadly not as commonly known, relates to the amount of seafood we should be eating.

The Food Standards Agency and wider health experts recommend eating two portions of seafood a week, one of which should be oil-rich such as mackerel, sardines, pilchards, fresh tuna, kippers etc. The British Heart Foundation also promotes eating a weekly portion of oil-rich fish to help fight heart disease.

However, research shows that 72 per cent of UK adults do not know about this recommendation to eat two portions of fish a week – and although a high proportion of consumers know that oil-rich fish is the most natural source of health benefit rich omega 3 fatty acids, only a fraction will regularly include it on their weekly shopping list.

Why we should be eating two a week: Fish and shellfish are excellent sources of protein. They also provide a huge variety of different vitamins and minerals which have important functions in the human body. As mentioned, many fish and shellfish species are also good sources of omega 3 fatty acids, which have been proven to be invaluable to our health. With different seafood having different health benefits, we should vary the types of seafood we eat and widen our meal repertoire wherever possible.

Seafood is actually a ‘health-food’ in more ways than one; first and foremost, it’s jam-packed with nutrients, vitamins and minerals that help to keep our bodies in great shape, and a ready source of omega-3 fatty acids. Secondly, seafood is low in calories and high in protein. This makes it the perfect food for dieters; high levels of protein keep you feeling fuller for longer, without the extra calories. Studies have even shown that people who eat seafood regularly are, on average, slimmer than people who don’t.

Despite being so high in minerals, seafood is also very low in salt and sodium. Most of us eat too much sodium, which has been linked to high blood pressure, strokes and heart disease. Swapping a ready meal that’s high in sodium for an easily prepared seafood dish can help you to lower your salt intake and boost your health.

Before we can aim for two portions a week though, it’s necessary to know what a portion is. One portion of seafood is generally considered to be about 140g of seafood, or about the size of a clenched fist. This is roughly equal to:

  • A medium-sized fillet of whitefish (cod, haddock, coley)
  • A medium-sized, whole, fresh mackerel
  • A drained tin of tuna or salmon
  • Two small tins of mackerel or sardines

While many people don’t currently meet the two a week recommendation, research amongst consumers does however highlight that once aware of the health benefits to be derived from the consumption of seafood, those consumers are encouraged to eat more than they already do.

In addition to the two a week message is the growing trend of consumers being more flexible in what diets they follow – something often referred to as ‘flexitarian’. For example, perhaps only eating meat three days a week, or not eating carbohydrates after a certain time in the day, and pescetarianism is said to be one of the major ‘flexitarian’ trends for the current age; consumers endeavouring to regularly include fish and shellfish in a flexible diet regime.

What then are the opportunities open to both retailers and foodservice providers on the back of such messaging and trends? In the past, many dining establishments might only have made a token gesture to including a couple of seafood dishes on their menu. However, with an ever-increasing variety of fish and shellfish readily

As consumers in the UK we have a tendency to focus our seafood consumption on five main species – salmon, tuna, cod, haddock and prawns – and yet on any one day it is estimated that there is in excess of 100 different species of fish and shellfish available to purchase in the UK; a veritable bounty from the seas!

Therefore, the challenge for seafood retailers and foodservice providers is to seek to inform and educate their customers on the simple resultant health benefits of consuming fish and shellfish on a regular basis as part of a balanced diet.

Providing delicious seafood meal choices that will entice customers, allied to reinforcing messaging extolling the wide variety of flavours and textures to be enjoyed in the eating of fish and shellfish are key to ensuring people are eating more seafood. As with cheese or wine, if a consumer doesn’t like the particular taste or texture of a certain fish species, there is bound to be another species that they will like.

With such a large variety of fish and shellfish species available to us in the UK, there really is no excuse not to try something new – good news for consumers taste buds and also their health!

Andy Gray is Trade Marketing Manager at Seafish. Seafish was founded in 1981 by an Act of Parliament and aims to support all sectors of the seafood industry for a sustainable, profitable future. It is the only pan-industry body offering services to all parts of the industry, from the start of the supply chain at catching and aquaculture; through processing, importers, exporters and distributors of seafood right through to restaurants and retailers. Seafish is funded by a levy on the first sale of seafood landed in the UK. Its services are intended to support and improve the environmental sustainability, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the industry, as well as promoting sustainably-sourced seafood.
www.seafish.org
www.2aweek.co.uk