Most people’s mental image of “meat” is a thick, juicy T-bone steak. On Paleo, bacon might be a close second. But while there’s nothing wrong with steak and bacon, focusing too closely on just a few kinds of animals can lead to a very limited menu of poultry, beef, and pork. Even if you eat a variety of organs and different cuts of meat, restricting yourself to land animals like this can reduce the variety and micronutrient content of your diet, not to mention cutting you off from a whole world of delicious recipes! Two-thirds of the Earth is covered with water; fish and other types of seafood diet present a wide array of Paleo meal options. While it’s important to be aware of environmental issues and potential food toxins, the benefits of eating fish are far greater than the risks, making seafood diet one important part of a balanced diet.
Nutritional Benefits of Fish
Eating high-quality seafood can help you improve your health by balancing this ratio: studies have shown that moderate doses of EPA and DHA protect against heart disease. On the other hand, more is not necessarily better: above a “modest consumption,” (about two servings of wild-caught salmon or mussels per week) the risk of a heart attack was not lowered any further. Like safe starches, O3s are best consumed in moderation, rather than avoided entirely or eaten to excess.
Anything that lived in the sea at some point (fish, shellfish, seaweed, or anything that ate them) will contain significant amounts of iodine.
Another essential nutrient found in seafood is selenium. This makes seafood an ideal dietary choice for people avoiding nuts since the other major dietary source of selenium is Brazil Nuts. Like iodine, selenium supports thyroid function and helps prevent oxidative stress. Although most people get plenty of selenium in their diet, people with malabsorptive disorders (like undiagnosed food intolerances, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, or IBS ), and people with chronically inflamed guts are more susceptible. Thus, getting enough seafood is especially important if your gut is damaged, because people with gut disorders should generally be avoiding nuts, including Brazil Nuts.
Heavy Metals and Toxic Pollutants
Fish is a tasty and very nutritious addition to your diet. But like land animals, fish can also contain various environmental toxins that seep into our seas and oceans from commercial farming operations, manufacturing plants, and other wastes. One of the most common of these toxins is mercury, a heavy metal used in all kinds of industrial applications. Microorganisms in marine environments convert this mercury into methylmercury, which accumulates through the food chain. This means that the higher a fish is on the food chain, the more concentrated the mercury in its body will be: small fish like sardines and anchovies have a very low concentration of mercury, while large, predatory fish like swordfish have more.
As serious as mercury poisoning is, all the well-intentioned warnings against eating fish may not actually be warranted. Mercury is certainly toxic, but the high levels of selenium in most fish naturally protects against mercury poisoning by binding to mercury, preventing the body from absorbing it. Thus, there’s no reason to avoid fish because you’re afraid of mercury poisoning. If you’re very concerned, make an effort to eat fish lower on the food chain, and avoid fish that are very high in mercury. The four worst offenders in this regard are Tilefish, King Mackerel, Shark, and Swordfish: Tuna gets a lot of bad press for being loaded with mercury, but this is mostly because tuna is very popular, not because it’s particularly problematic.