Humans have been catching and eating seafood since our earliest prehistory. Evidence has been found in caves in South Africa of humans eating shellfish and shallow-water fish 140,000 years ago, and fishing hooks from East Timor have been dated to more than 40,000 years ago. Commercial fishing began with the Atlantic cod trade of the Vikings and medieval Basques; even the Pilgrims hoped to make a go of their Plymouth colony by catching cod.
Early seafood consumers quickly realized that this protein-rich food source was good for them. But a connection between the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil and heart health wasn’t made until the 1970s. Danish scientists studying the Inuit in Greenland, who eat lots of fatty fish (and marine mammals, also rich in omega-3s), suggested that fish oil might explain the population’s low rates of cardiovascular disease.
The government’s latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults eat about 8 ounces of fish (or shellfish) a week for its “total package of nutrients.” That’s in line with recommendations from the American Heart Association. In particular, fatty fish like salmon are advised because of higher levels of omega-3 fats.
And yet a USDA Agricultural Research Service study of national data found that 80 to 90 percent of Americans do not consume the recommended two servings of seafood each week. Americans average less than 16 pounds of seafood per capita annually, far behind our counterparts in the United Kingdom at 47 pounds apiece; residents of the Maldives lead the world in seafood intake at 314 pounds per capita annually.
Although choosing fish can be complicated, with questions ranging from nutrients to contaminants to sustainability, it’s unquestionably a smart move for your health.
For advice on why you should eat more fish, see Catch the Health Benefits of Fish.
For advice on how to choose safe fish, see Cautions About Fish Consumption.