Changing consumer attitudes favour fish

Published on
April 4, 2016

An increasing awareness of health issues in the United Kingdom is making consumers consider more carefully what they eat and as a result, fish and shellfish could – and should – benefit from this.

Fat and sugar are currently being blamed for the growing obesity crisis in the U.K., where 74 percent of men and 64 percent of women are predicted to be overweight or obese by 2030. The U.K. still lags behind the United States, which has the unenviable distinction of having the most obese population in the world.

It is a little-known fact that fish is an appetite suppressant. Trials have shown that eating fish stopped people feeling hungry sooner than other protein foods such as beef and chicken. It is also more satisfying than other high-protein foods, according to Anna Karin Lindroos from the Elsie Widdowson Laboratory in Cambridge in the U.K., who conducted the trials.

Lean [white, non-oily] fish has a low energy density combined with high protein levels, she said. “Of the main protein foods, fish has the highest volume but contains the lowest number of calories.”

Laura Webber, of the U.K. Health Forum, has likened obesity to an “epidemic.”

“Governments [across Europe] must do more to restrict unhealthy food marketing and make healthy food more affordable,” she said.

Webber recommends restricting the marketing of unhealthy food to children, subsidizing healthier food to make it more affordable and taxing less healthy food and beverages like sugary drinks, Webber told the Guardian newspaper.

Webber’s report is excellent news for the seafood industry. While the U.K. government has recommended that individuals limit their intake of red meat – which is high in saturated fat a primary cause of heart disease – and limit the portion size of the meat they eat to three to four ounces (85- 113 grams) per day, it is simultaneously recommending that its citizens eat two 140 gram (5 ounce) portions of fish per week, with the added recommendation that one of those servings be an oily variety. The fat in oil-rich fish species contains the polyunsaturated fatty acids known as omega-3s, which are beneficial to heart health.

When it comes to educating consumers, it seems as if people have started to grasp the fact that the omega-3 fatty acids present in fish are good for them. However, the message that fish also contains vitamin D, which has long-term health benefits, has not yet penetrated the minds of many consumers.

Sometimes dubbed the “sunshine vitamin” because it can be absorbed by the body through exposure to the sun, vitamin D is traditionally associated with calcium balance and bone health. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to hypertension, Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease and prostate cancer.

Vitamin D is so beneficial that, after omega-3 fatty acids, scientists say that it should be recognized as the next major aid in disease prevention.

Fish and shellfish are also exceptional sources of iodine and selenium. In fact, shellfish are probably the richest source of both trace elements.

Iodine and selenium are needed to make thyroid hormones, and selenium has many other beneficial effects, even acting against cancer. Thyroid hormone is essential for brain development in the foetus and deficiency during pregnancy can lead to children being born with below average intelligence. Lack of iodine and selenium can cause severe and irreversible repercussions on brain development throughout childhood, and can affect brain performance in adults, potentially leading to depression in old age.

The list of health benefits gained from eating fish goes on and on. But we have all been here before and efforts to promote the health benefits of fish – and therefore increase consumption – have fallen short.

It is surprising that governments take no action, since they would save lots of money by not having to pay for the treatment of illnesses that could be prevented if diets contained higher levels of seafood, according to Bill Lands, a renowned medical expert credited with discovering the beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids.

“Why wait for disease to develop and then spend millions preventing it?” he asked at a London conference in 2009.
However, for some reason, governments around the world have so far failed to implement policies to increase seafood consumption and it would be naïve to expect to expect action on this effort any time soon.

Will the seafood industry act? Again, the answer is “probably not,” even though it would obviously be good for business.

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