I see a tonne of clients for whom seafood is just not really a big deal - they might like it but really only eat it once a fortnight, or just hate anything from the sea with a passion, or might like it but others in the house don't so they just don't eat it much.
It's not my job to force people to change their personal preferences but it is my job to educate as to why eating seafood just occasionally or never is actually a problem… and what to do about it.
Seafood is the primary source of two very important nutrients - iodine and omega 3 fatty acids (aka essential fatty acids (EFAs)).
Iodine is an essential mineral which is basically non-existent in our ancient Australian soils so we rely on the ocean as our only quality source (dairy is old news since storage tanks are no longer cleaned with iodine). Iodine is important for fertility, brain function, and mood but what might really catch your attention is that iodine is vital for metabolism, so maintaining weight balance. Iodine deficiency slows the thyroid (metabolism) and causes weight gain.
We are in the middle of a chronic omega 3 fatty acid deficiency crisis. Very few people obtain their required daily EFA needs. This 'wonder fat' is important for brain health, learning and development (are the kids eating seafood?), heart health and preventing inflammation. The best source is fatty fish but historically we also obtained this from grass fed meats. When livestock are fed on their natural diet of grass, they produce omega 3 fatty acids, not the inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids produced by grain fed livestock.
So, in a nutshell, not eating seafood can make you fat, dumb, sad, and achy - is that too harsh?
What's to be done?
There are four logical choices. Let’s take a look...
Optimise your seafood intake to 3-4 times a week (see below for tips)
Seek alternative sources of iodine and EFAs
If you want to sort out your seafood intake here are a few hot tips to choosing seafood well...
Aim to eat seafood 3 - 4 times a week
Mostly, choose smaller fish at the bottom of the food chain. The larger the fish the more accumulated toxic load. The sea 'aint as clean as we'd like (think whiting, salmon, sardines, herring, prawns, calamari, oysters; not flake, tuna, swordfish)
Choose seafood from clean waters and line & wild caught where possible. Avoid Asian waters as much as possible.
Avoid farmed fish where possible. Fish are not supposed to eat grain (that is what they are fed in farmed aquaculture because it’s cheap) and don't produce a healthy EFA fat balance when fed an unnatural diet.
The best fatty fish for EFAs are S.M.A.S.H (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring)
If you want to seek alternative sources for iodine and EFAs…
All foods from the sea are iodine rich which means that you can turn to seaweeds as an iodine source. There are many iodine rich culinary seaweeds on the market from sushi wraps (nori) to dulse, and wakame. The best way to eat this is dried flakes like a condiment on foods. Seaweed tastes like salt so you can sprinkle it on vegetables or salads for an easy diet addition. Always choose seaweed from clean water like Canada, New Zealand or Tasmania (avoid Asian waters). Consider a pinch or two each day to support iodine levels. If you have an autoimmune thyroid condition, it is important to use seaweed under the guidance of your practitioner. The wrong amount can be aggravating.
Choose grass fed only meats whenever you can. Grass fed and grain finished is no good as the ‘fattening’ happens from the grain feeding. Grass fed livestock produce omega 3 fatty acids within their meat; grain fed livestock produce inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids. All feedlot livestock are grain fed. Many butchers sell grass fed meats; most supermarkets don't. Grass fed meat can be expensive so consider a few meals a week or tracking down a good bulk supplier.
Some plants contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is a precursor to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These latter two are the coveted EFAs in seafood and grass fed meats that our bodies can easily use. If you turn to ALA as your primary source of EFAs you will need to eat these foods in a decent amount and daily as the body needs to work hard to convert the ALA into a usable form. Foods rich in ALA are hemp seeds, flaxseeds (aka linseeds), chia seeds, walnuts and their oils and some algae. If you choose to use ALA rich oils, buy them ‘cold pressed’ and use them cold (never cook with them which damages them)
If you choose to supplement to replace what you would get from seafood...
Choose a quality fish oil. Do not skimp on this as cheap fish oil supplements are renowned for a high heavy metal load. If you work with a practitioner you will be able to access prescription only supplements which are stringently tested for quality and low toxic load. Aim for a minimum of 1g per day but if you have heart issues, mood issues or an inflammatory condition (arthritis, skin conditions or autoimmunity) consider starting around 3g per day.
Vegans and strict vegetarians could choose a plant based omega 3 fatty acid supplement based on algae oil from Schizochytrium spp or the seed oils mentioned above. Generally, dosing would be similar to fish oil but EFA levels will be slightly less.
Iodine is a finickity mineral to supplement. It’s a goldilocks mineral - we’re no good with too little; we’re no good with too much. Over supplementation can upset the thyroid and in some cases even spike thyroid antibody production in those with thyroid autoimmune conditions (like Hashimoto’s or Grave’s Disease). Always err on the side of caution and cap iodine supplementation at around 150ug per day. You may indeed need more than this but this would need to be determined by a qualified nutritionally educated practitioner. People who might consider testing their iodine status for possible higher supplementation would include those with weight issues, mood issues or fertility issues. It’s also important that a supplement containing iodine also contains selenium to improve the body’s utilisation. For 150ug of iodine, look for 75ug of selenium
If you choose to do nothing about your lack of seafood intake, that’s totally fine too but know that your body and brain cannot work optimally without iodine and omega 3 fatty acids. With health care it’s always best to be proactive rather than reactive. It’s easier to prevent a condition that may have been triggered by nutrient deficiency than it is to reverse one.
When to take note of your body’s whispers if you don’t eat seafood…
Weight gain or struggling to find your weight balance
Fatigue and/ or low mood
Memory and calculation issues
Breast pain, goiter (swollen thyroid, it’s just above your collar bone at the front of your neck), or hair loss
Joint pain, skin conditions like acne, eczema or psoriasis
Heart issues like high blood pressure, high cholesterol or triglycerides, high inflammatory markers
Not negotiable iodine and omega 3 fatty acid support...
If you are planning to become, or currently are, pregnant you MUST support these essential nutrients in one of the ways mentioned above. Brain development and future IQ levels have been tightly linked to both optimal iodine and EFA intake during pregnancy. Needs for both of these nutrients will also be greater.
Growing children need these nutrients for brain smarts. Our children are 100% reliant on us to provide them with good nutrition, despite our own preferences, likes and dislikes. Even if you choose not to eat seafood, are vegetarian or vegan, as parents, we still need to ensure that these needs are met for our children
Closing thoughts on iodised salt. Adding iodine to salt was introduced in the 1920s when chronic iodine deficiency (presenting as low IQ levels) was identified. Many people use iodised salt however it’s important to be aware of the following…
It is always preferable to obtain natural diet-derived forms of iodine (such as seafood or seaweed) as the body uses it more efficiently due to additional available minerals in these foods
The form of iodine used in most iodised salts (potassium iodate) is often poorly absorbed
Iodised salts almost always contain anti-caking agents to make them pour more easily, common ones include cyanide and aluminium
You may not eat enough salt or too much salt for your iodine requirements. Again, if you have an autoimmune thyroid condition this might be a problem for you.
What we eat is our most powerful tool when it comes to health - it can lift you to your highest peak or drag you through the ditches. Food choices and diet shouldn’t be hard. If you are finding food overwhelming, anxiety-provoking or down right annoying, reach out.
When you get nutrient status and food right, everything can change. BOOK HERE
photo credits: Mike Bergmann, Aleisha Kalina, Jennifer Pallian, Ulvia Safari, Senjuti Kundu, Elsa Olofsson, Wolfgang Hasselmann, Edi Libedinksky, Casey Lee (www.unsplash.com)