The American diet has a pretty bad rap (and with reason). But based on new government statistics, things may be looking up: According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual Fisheries of the United States report, Americans increased their consumption of fish and shellfish to 15.5 pounds per person in 2015. That’s a leap of nearly four pounds from the prior year—and also the greatest rise in two decades.
The bump is a major win for public health, says Health contributing nutrition editor Cynthia Sass, RD, MPH: “The trend towards eating more fish has the potential to reduce obesity and chronic disease stats in the U.S., particularly if the fish we’re eating are high in omega-3 fatty acids, and prepared and cooked healthfully.”
But there’s still room for improvement. Our weekly average of 4.77 ounces of seafood falls short of the 8 ounces per week recommended by the current Dietary Guidelines. Below, we’ve rounded up five excellent excuses to add more more fish to your diet, starting today.
Fish are good for your heart
Thanks to their ample supply of omega-3s, fatty fish (like salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines) are a prime heart-healthy food. Studies have shown omega-3s can decrease triglycerides, and lower the risk of arrhythmia (an irregular heart beat), and atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in the arteries). The American Heart Association recommends having at least two serving of fish (and ideally fatty fish) every week.
Seafood provides key nutrients
Shrimp, for example, are not only rich in protein, but also contain two antioxidants that have been shown to help stave off aging and disease. Clams are loaded with potassium, as well as the highest concentration of B12 of any food. Six raw oysters contain 32 mg of zinc, 400% the recommended daily amount. And fatty fish are chock-full of vitamin D. Those are just a few examples of the nutritional perks of seafood; to reap the benefits, it’s key to eat a variety of fish and shellfish, says Sass. Every so often, swap your go-to salmon filet for shrimp or clams, she suggests.
Fish could help with anxiety and depression
Eating seafood may offer some natural protection against anxiety and depression. In one study, medical students who had 2.5 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids daily for 12 weeks showed lower levels of anxiety on the day of an exam than those who took a placebo. Research has also shown that people who eat fish regularly are less likely to become depressed. And in parts of the world where seafood is a diet staple, people tend to have lower levels of depression.
And protect your memory
Fatty fish are rich in an omega-3 called docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, which plays a key role in the brain. “DHA seems to be very important for the normal functioning of neurons,” Martha Clare Morris, ScD, director of the section on nutrition and nutritional epidemiology in the Department of Internal Medicine at Rush University, in Chicago, told Health in a prior interview.
What’s more, research from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that people who regularly ate fish had larger volumes of gray matter in regions of the brain associated with memory and cognition. But keep in mind, the people in this study ate fish that was baked or broiled (not fried!). So be sure to cook your filets in a healthy way.
Fish may help prevent a slew of health conditions
As Sass explains, the omega-3s in fatty fish help reduce inflammation in the body, regulate blood pressure, and lower the risk of many conditions like diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, asthma, and even some cancers. Convinced yet?
If a seafood craving is kicking in right about how, check out this collection of 24 delicious fish recipes for fresh ideas, from tacos and chowder to smoked salmon pizza.