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Seafood Improves Health

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NORWAY - Despite the importance of seafood as a natural source of nutrition in a balanced diet, consumption of it is still too low.

The report ”Norwegian Dietary Trends in 2009” published by the Norwegian Directorate of Health states we eat less fish than we should. By changing our eating habits, to include more fish and less food containing saturated fat, and taking more exercise, we can help to prevent lifestyle-related diseases such as obesity, heart attacks and diabetes 2.

Livar Frøyland, head of research in the Programme for Seafood and Health at the National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research (NIFES) in Bergen, is engaged in documenting the health effects of eating seafood.

"The health effects of seafood consumption is a major research area where we are focused on seafood as a whole and not just the individual nutrients present in fish," says Ms Frøyland.

"Until now, the health effects of eating fish, and especially fatty fish, have largely been linked to marine omega-3 fatty acids, which we know have a positive effect on cardiac and vascular diseases.

"On this basis, the conclusions reached in the report ”A comprehensive assessment of fish and other seafood in the Norwegian diet” published by the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety included the view that the positive effects of eating seafood outweigh the negative effects. However, marine omega-3 fatty acids are only one of many nutrients provided by seafood," says Ms Frøyland.

When you eat fish and other seafoods your nutritional status improves. A good nutritional status is one of several basic requirements for good health, since it ensures that we receive sufficient amounts of nutrients throughout a week. The levels of several nutrients can be measured in the blood.

When you make room for seafood on your plate, you are at the same time replacing it with other foods, perhaps fatty food products containing a large amount of saturated fat which we eat too much of, according to the Norwegian Directorate of Health. A decision not to consume something will also play a role in changing both your nutritional status and your diet as a whole. It is easy to forget this, but it is a very important point.

Until now, the marine omega-3 fatty acids have been the basis of the documented positive health effects of seafood. New research indicates that seafood can also contribute to the prevention of diabetes 2, among other things.

"We have carried out some studies in this area and the results are promising. Among the findings are indications that fish proteins can reduce abdominal fat and lead to enhanced regulation of blood sugar among rats, while a diet rich in fish has also been shown to play a role in preventing multiple sclerosis among rats.

"Previous studies have also shown that there may be a link between seafood in the diet and mental health. We are collaborating with a number of different research environments to determine whether seafood affects the behaviour of prison inmates, and whether it improves the learning abilities of children and reduces post-natal depression.

"There are many possibilities, but as only a small number of studies have been carried out and there are few scientific articles dealing with the health effects of consuming seafood in general, the seafood has been left in the starting blocks, while food supplements is racing ahead. Fish comprises many positive elements. Why, then, should we be satisfied with supplements when we can eat a complete package?"