The International Seafood and Health Conference took place in Melbourne on 7-10 November 2010. This was a great gathering of international experts and researchers who presented new data on this important topic.
We often hear about omega-3 fats being a panacea for good health, with claims made that range from increasing your child’s intelligence and learning ability, through to reducing risk of heart disease and helping those with arthritis. But what’s the latest scientific evidence saying? And how much seafood should we be eating for optimal health.
Here is a summary of some of the latest information in this area:
Nutrients in fish
Fish is a good source of protein, is one of the richest sources of the beneficial long chain omega-3 fatty acids DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and provides B vitamins, iodine, selenium, zinc, iron and (if eaten with the bones) some calcium.
There is good evidence that the very long chain omega-3 fatty acids provide protection against heart disease, particularly in terms of reducing the risk of CHD death. EPA and DHA have an anti-thrombotic effect and help to reduce plasma triglycerides. Recent research is also suggestive of a protective effect against some types of cancer (for example colon, breast and prostate cancer) although we do need to see a lot more evidence before we can make firm recommendations in this area. The protein in fish may help you to feel fuller for longer. But if you are on a weight-reducing diet then obviously you need to be thinking about other aspects of your diet as well, along with increasing your activity levels. Another interesting area of research is rheumatoid arthritis and some evidence seems to suggest that a supplement of fish oils (about 2.7g per day) can be helpful in reducing morning stiffness and reducing tenderness in the joints.
Learning and development among kids
There is lots of fascinating research in this area. We know that DHA is an important constituent of the brain and that infants born pre-term need extra DHA in their diet — but will providing extra DHA be helpful for normal healthy children? Some research suggests a beneficial effect of eating fish 1-3 times a week during pregnancy on the neurodevelopment of offspring, however overall results from the research in this area are mixed. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last month showed that omega-3 supplements during pregnancy may be effective in preventing cognitive delay in some susceptible children, but overall there was no significant benefit in terms of neurodevelopment (check out the SMC Science Alert on this). We certainly need to see a lot more research in this area to determine if increasing omega-3 intakes during pregnancy will be beneficial.
Staying healthy in older age
There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that omega-3 may be important for good cognitive function later in life and for reducing risk of dementia. We need to see a lot more research here as well — but early results are promising.
So, overall, fish provides a great, nutrient-dense package of goodness — and it’s quick and easy to cook (take a look at the New Zealand Seafood Industry Council’s website for some great recipe ideas and cooking tips). Having fish-based meals during pregnancy may help cognitive development in the young, and for older people may reduce cognitive decline. Further, fish may help with reducing risk and alleviating symptoms of a range of chronic diseases.
It’s a very exciting area of research and there are many studies currently underway both here in New Zealand and overseas. Watch this space for more on this important area of research as it becomes available
Check out my new report, which reviews a lot of the latest science in this area: The Role of seafood in a healthy diet.