When we think of summertime meals in the Mediterranean, one of our most enduring meal memories is that of enjoying grilled seafood—at a seaside taverna in Greece or at a seaside restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean in Italy, Spain, Turkey, Portugal, or Cyprus. Regardless of where you are eating, there are so many good reasons to embrace summer seafood cooking.
Preventing Heart Disease:
Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Nutrition at Penn State University, notes “there is an impressive scientiﬁc evidence base about the many health beneﬁts of a dietary pattern wherein ﬁsh and seafood are the major protein sources along with vegetables, fruits and other plant-based foods such as legumes, nuts, seed and whole grains. In fact, these foods are the basis of a dietary pattern recommended by the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Including ﬁsh and seafood is especially beneﬁcial for prevention of heart disease through multiple mechanisms including: lowering blood pressure and heart rate, improving blood vessel function, and, at higher doses, lowering triglycerides and lessening inﬂammation.”
As reported on the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health website, “In a comprehensive analysis of human studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Harvard School of Public Health professors Dariush Mozaﬀarian (now Dean at the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy) and Eric Rimm calculated that eating about 2 grams per week of omega-3 fatty acids in ﬁsh, equal to about one or two servings of fatty ﬁsh a week, reduces the chances of dying from heart disease by more than one-third. (1). Further cementing the link between seafood consumption and reduction of heart disease, and also addressing the issue of mercury and PCBs in seafood, Drs. Mozaﬀarian and Rimm wrote “in their analysis that after reviewing data from the Environmental Protection Agency and elsewhere, they calculated that if 100,000 people ate farmed salmon twice a week for 70 years, the extra PCB intake could potentially cause 24 extra deaths from cancer—but would prevent at least 7,000 deaths from heart disease.”
Mental Health and Brain Health
Michael A Crawford, PhD, CBiol., FRSB, FRCPath, of The Department of Metabolism, Digestion and Reproduction at Imperial College, London, has long said that ”the escalation of mental ill-health is a greater threat to the survival of humanity than global warming, important as that is. The brain evolved in the sea 500-600 million years ago. With the recent escalation of intensively reared land-based foods and decline in ﬁsheries, it is not getting the seafoods it still requires! The solution to this crisis is to restore the balance between land-based and aquatic foods. Restore the oldways when during the upward evolution of our brain, we enjoyed the best of both worlds—a balance between foods from the sea and foods from the land.”
Professor Crawford is a storied and much-admired professor and researcher, whose research has focused on (1) the biological reason why docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) has been so unique in neural signaling for the past 500-600 million years of evolution, and (2) the application of that knowledge to prevent and treat neurodevelopmental disorder. Therefore, he is a huge proponent of the power of eating seafood and ﬁsh, and particularly related to brain health, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The link between the foods we eat and brain health is not always top of mind for people, but research shows that diet greatly impacts our long-term and short-term brain function, mental health, and mood. Many of the nutrient-rich foods that star in the Mediterranean Diet – seafood, vegetables, berries, olive oil, nuts, whole grains, and more – are the exact same foods recommended in the MIND Diet, a combination of foods speciﬁcally created by researchers to boost brain health.
The omega-3 DHA oils found in ﬁsh – a staple of both the Med and MIND Diets– actually build the brain. Research shows that children of moms who eat seafood 2-3 times each week during pregnancy reach milestones–like climbing stairs, copying sounds and drinking from a cup–more quickly. And on the other end of the age spectrum, a recent study found that eating a Mediterranean-style diet may help protect against memory loss and dementia.
What better time to focus on working more brain-boosting foods into your family’s meal plan than June, which is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month? The new Cognition Kitchen guide is a free digital download that provides simple, science-based information along with 16 delicious recipes full of brain-healthy foods like wild blueberries, ﬁsh, nuts, and eggs. Check out the new free Cognition Kitchen guide here.
Great Taste and It’s Easy to Cook Fish and Seafood
Adding to the strong health beneﬁts of consuming ﬁsh and seafood, don’t ignore how easy ﬁsh and seafood are to prepare, and how delicious the resulting preparations are! For many years, retailers and supermarket dietitians have heard complaints from consumers that they don’t know how to cook ﬁsh. However, things are looking up! One of the silver linings of this past year of COVID isolation is an increase in sales of seafood at retail.
In February 2021, the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) released a report, the 2021 Power of Seafood, which found the seafood department was a leading driver in the percentage of increased grocery sales in 2020 with a 28.4% increase in sales, which exceeded the sales growth of the produce, meat or deli departments. In total, seafood (fresh, frozen, canned, pouches, etc.) generated more than $16.6 billion in sales for food retailers in 2020. Insights from the report ﬁnd the biggest reason for increased seafood consumption is consumers are trying to eat healthier (59%).
FMI noted that this “suggests an urgency for food retailers to expand their seafood programs to help sustain consumer awareness of this protein that has emerged in popularity as a result of the pandemic,” Rick Stein, vice president of fresh foods for FMI, said. “The call to action among grocers is to focus on seafood nutrition, cooking guidance, meal ideas and sustainability both in-store and online as ways to maintain shopper interest in seafood.”
In terms of cooking, there are many ways to prepare seafood. It’s summer, and if you don’t want to turn the stove or oven on, try the grill! In the winter, you can broil in the oven. Roasting ﬁsh and seafood in the oven couldn’t be easier; marinate in extra virgin olive oil, lemon and herbs (or another Mediterranean marinade of your choice….North African chermoula is one of our favorites) and pop in the oven for 15 or 20 minutes. Cooking inparchment paper or cooking en paillote is delicious and simple and is a no-mess meal. Take a piece of parchment paper for each person you are serving, place a vegetable in the middle of the paper, put a 4-ounce piece of ﬁsh on top, add extra virgin olive oil, lemon and herbs of choice. Voila! Place the unopened parchment package on individual plates, and you will have a beautiful presentation for each person at your table. Try this recipe for Baked Cod in Parchment; however, you can substitute many other types of ﬁsh. Stovetop cooking also works well; sautéing or even frying in extra virgin olive oil.
Canned seafood and ﬁsh are also a great option. Tuna, mackerel, salmon, sardines and herring are ready to eat, and perfect for sandwiches, salads, main dishes and more. For more ideas, see this earlier blog post about canned seafood.
For more inspiration, see the recipes in this week’s Fresh Friday, look for recipes through the Oldways recipe search, and check out these three in our 12 Great Ways to Use series: salmon, shrimp, canned sardines.
Then, you can imagine that you’re sitting seaside at a Greek island taverna!
1. Mozaﬀarian D, Rimm EB. Fish intake, contaminants, and human health: evaluating the risks and the beneﬁts. JAMA. 2006; 296:1885-99.
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