Should I eat more fish?

Health  |  By

Whether or not to eat meat, and if so, whether to eat fish, seafood or land-reared meat is a very personal choice that may be based on many things. Ethical concerns about animal wellbeing, environmental issues, cultural or religious beliefs, nutritional benefits, price and availability or just taste preferences are some of the many factors that may influence our decision.

With food production accounting for over 30% of greenhouse gas emissions and over half of that down to livestock, we certainly need to look more closely at the environmental impact of our food choices. But, unless we are careful, we may lose valuable nutrients in our efforts to protect the planet.

A bit of useful guidance was found in a recent news report from Nature [1], which highlighted the potential nutritional and sustainability benefits of eating seafood over meat.

The study, from a research unit in Canada, suggested that the best nutritional benefit with the least greenhouse gas emissions was to be found by eating farmed bivalves (e.g. mussels, clams and oysters) as well as the small, oily fish like mackerel, anchovies and herring.

The nutritional density, from healthy fats and vitamins was apparently better with these seafoods than pork, beef or chicken.

Wild caught salmon was also a good choice, whereas farmed salmon, though more nutrient-dense than chicken or beef, produced higher emissions than the wild variety.

Don’t rush out to the chip shop though – white fish like cod was associated with low emissions but was also low in nutrition, partly due to the relative lack of healthy oils like essential fatty acids. And the grease and processed carbs that come with battered white fish add little to a healthy diet!

The study was not, of course, assessing the availability and cost of these various options, so may not be widely applicable, but it’s worth bearing in mind.

One last word of caution – the study only included greenhouse gas emissions generated during production or capture, and not those related to refrigeration or transport. So, as with all of our food purchases, we also need to be mindful of food-miles and consider whether locally sourced food is more environmentally beneficial than food from further afield. And that isn’t always as straightforward as it may seem, as sometimes we need to use more energy to create favourable growing or rearing conditions here, than may be found naturally elsewhere.

[1] Bianchi, M., Hallström, E., Parker, R.W.R. et al. Assessing seafood nutritional diversity together with climate impacts informs more comprehensive dietary advice. Commun Earth Environ 3, 188 (2022)
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