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Eat seafood twice a week

Like most adults, I am concerned about remaining healthy and mentally sharp as I age. I have a job that I love, family and friends to care for, community commitments, and leisure time activities.  These activities are important to me and I want to enjoy them for many years. I know that achieving and maintaining my best, healthiest life requires some effort. I have to move more, build muscle strength, get enough sleep, and eat healthy food. Fortunately, eating fish or seafood twice a week is a delicious way to eat healthy food.

Fish and seafood provide several important nutrients that are often lacking in our American diet. They provide high-quality, easy to digest protein with little saturated fat. Although the typical American diet has plenty of protein for younger people, new research shows that older people may need to eat more than earlier recommendations suggested.

As we age, we begin to lose muscle mass and strength, which can lead to weakness and decreased mobility and quality of life. Increasing the amount of protein for those who 70 years and older to about 60 to 70 grams per day helps to maintain muscle mass and strength as we age, particularly when we combine that with some resistance exercise. Another nutrient that is essential to maintaining strong bones and muscles as we age is vitamin D. Very few foods contain vitamin D naturally but fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel are among the best food sources of vitamin D.

Fish and seafood contribute other nutrients as well including vitamin A needed for healthy vision and skin, selenium, an anti-oxidant, zinc needed for a healthy immune system, iron needed for red blood cell production, and iodine for thyroid gland function. Fish that are eaten whole (sardines and anchovies) or canned salmon with the bones are good sources of calcium, which works with vitamin D to strengthen bones.

All of these important nutrients make fish or seafood a great choice for dinner but there is one nutrient that gives it an even greater advantage to health. Fish and seafood are important sources of omega-3 fatty acids.  Most people recognize that omega-3 fatty acids are heart-healthy fats. In the body, they help to keep blood vessels open so that blood flows freely. They help to prevent a potentially fatal heart attack, stroke, or blood clot in the leg or lungs by keeping blood platelets from clumping together. They can help to lower blood pressure and triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood stream) and raise levels of good cholesterol. Omega-3 fatty acids in the body have anti-inflammatory properties which can help with symptoms of asthma, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and psoriasis. Our brains also benefit from omega-3 fatty acids from fish. They are associated with fewer symptoms of depression, decreased age-related mental decline, and a lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Some studies have shown that they reduced the risk of colon cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer. Finally, a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids may help to prevent premature aging of the skin!

The Seafood Nutrition Partnership is on a mission to help West Virginians improve their health and well-being by eating two or more servings of fish or seafood a week as part of a healthy eating plan. I signed the pledge to take action to improve my health by eating seafood twice a week. Please join me and let’s make West Virginia a healthier state. We’re worth it!

This article was written by Cindy Fitch, retired associate dean for research