Robbing our oceans
Overfishing is a very real concern internationally, and even right here in Canada. So much so that the government of Canada has acknowledged it as being an issue with serious consequences:
“Overfishing is a global problem with many serious social, economic and environmental implications. Every day, billions of people around the world rely on fish and seafood as a direct source of nutrition and a means of income. Now, more than ever before, our oceans are under pressure to meet the needs of growing populations in developing countries and a growing appetite for fish and seafood in developed nations.”1
It should also be noted that fishing contributes billions of dollars to Canada’s economy, in fact in 2015 alone it generated 1 billion dollars and fish and seafood was Canada’s second largest food export.3,4
Eating seafood is not sustainable
Small coastal regions rely on seafood as a main source of nutrition. Larger, more developed countries have access to many other food options that are far more sustainable, yet their consumption of seafood continues to rise.
One consumer insights study found that “There’s been a 30 percent increase in seafood consumption by millennials in the past year .”4
Canada’s food guide now recognizes plant-based proteins, but the very first recommendation is cooked fish or shellfish. They also encourage Canadians to “eat at least two Food Guide Servings of fish each week”.6 And according to the US food guidelines, people should be eating at least 8 ounces of seafood per week.5 The overconsumption of seafood in westernized countries, paired with the shrinking supply of fish and other marine animals has lead to less seafood for the countries that need it the most.6
Additionally, there are massive human rights violations happening in the fishing industry. “Slavery is prevalent within some seafood supply chains because of how difficult it is to regulate fishing activity in international waters, the complexity and lack of transparency in the supply chain and the demand for cheap seafood.”34 Sadly nothing in our world can truly be produced in a cruelty-free manner under capitalism. Even organically grown fruits and vegetables are often picked by marginalized and vulnerable people who face awful working conditions and poor wages. But, the fishing industry is increasingly dangerous for people forced to work because the trade takes place on open and oftentimes dangerous waters.
To top it all off, fish is not as healthy as you think. We’ve been marketed to believe seafood and fish offer unique nutritional benefits that no other food can offer. The truth is, there are many plant-based options that provide even more nutrition in a bioavailable form.
Fish; superfood or marketing lie?
Lean protein? More like cardiovascular risk: We often hear seafood being marketed as a ‘lean protein’ full of nutrition but without the cardiovascular risks and health baggage that come with red meat and other animal proteins. Unfortunately, this is not entirely true. Fish is actually very high in cholesterol. 100 ounces of steak, for example, contains about 78 mgs of cholesterol. Salmon, shrimp and crab all have higher amounts of cholesterol per 100-gram servings.7 We know that eating high cholesterol foods can lead to heart disease.8
Fish oil debunked: you may have heard of fish oil’s magical cures for brain degeneration, heart disease and more. One 2013 study found that supplementing with fish oil made little to no improvement in the heart health of one group. Conclusively, give this and other information, the study stated “Given these new data, combined with the harmful environmental impacts of fish oil production on the world’s fish population, clinicians should not recommend fish oil intake or fish consumption solely for the primary or secondary prevention of Coronary Heart Disease until the results of current trials are known.”10
Think seafood is rich in omegas? Think again. While seafood does contain some omegas, between 15 and 30 percent of the fat in fish is actually saturated fat, which has also been linked to long-term health problems.9
Pollutants in fish: Sea creatures live in increasingly polluted environments, which means they are forced to absorb these pollutants and carry them in their bodies. A study published in 2002 found evidence which suggested American seafood and animal protein contained unsafe amounts of POP’s – persistent organic pollutants, especially for children.11
A different study found evidence to suggest that microplastics can transfer absorbed contaminants to tissues of marine life.35 Those contaminants exist in the fish and are naturally passed on to whoever eats the fish. Other studies found high levels of accumulated heavy metals in different species of fish.36,37
“Our findings indicate that the US food supply is contaminated with levels of POPs chemicals that result in exposures at or above the health-based standards. Figure 1 shows that for children, dietary intake of the pesticide dieldrin can be well above risk thresholds set by government agencies.”11
“Once released to air, water, and soil, these chemicals do not break down readily by natural processes. Some have half-lives measured in decades, and they remain in water and soil where they are taken up by plants and animals that ultimately provide food for humans. It is no surprise, therefore, that POPs are pervasive in store bought food as well as in fish and in wildlife.”11
As stated, there’s little truth behind seafood and it’s nutritional potency. Any small bit of nutrition offered in seafood can be found in larger amounts in plant foods that are more sustainable to grow. See our replacement recommendations below.
If you’ve been promised healthy fats, omegas and overall health benefits from fish or seafood, don’t worry, there are plant-based superfoods that can actually give your body what it needs and some.
Omegas: Chia, hemp, sunflower and pumpkin seeds are all great sources of omegas. Walnuts are also great sources of omegas.12,13
Protein: Avocado, quinoa, buckwheat, soybeans (edamame & tempeh) and chia seeds are all complete plant proteins because they contain all 9 essential amino acids. When paired together these plant foods also have all 9: beans and Rice, spirulina with nuts or grains, hummus and pita (chickpeas have 8 out of 9 essentials and the wheat in the pita has the missing one, lysine). To learn more check out our article; Everything you need to know about plant-based protein
Healthy fats: Avocados contain fats that your body needs.  Avocados contain healthy fats, and “significant levels of the following: dietary fiber, potassium, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K1, folate, vitamin B-6, niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, choline, lutein/zeaxanthin, phytosterols, and monounsaturated fatty acid rich oil.”15
Overall health: Studies show that incorporating more nutrient dense plant foods into your diet will help give you more energy, help your body adapt and recover from food irradiation stress, prevent many chronic illnesses, and other health benefits.16,17,18,19,20,21,22,23,224,25,26,27,28,29,30,31,32
Plant protein is just as good, if not better than animal protein, and it’s better for the planet too!33
“Fish are friends, not food!”
Everyone is on their own health journey, and some might not be ready to entirely give up animal protein. However, just know that your food choices have repercussions and affect all of us. Switching over to a plant-centric diet not only helps the planet but as we’ve dispelled common myths about seafood, the right plant foods can give you better nutrition and ultimately a better quality of life.
Share this article with someone who might not know about the truth behind seafood.
16- Steinmetz KA, Potter JD. Vegetables, Fruit and Cancer Prevention: A Review. J Am Diet Assoc, 1996;96:1027-1039
17- Michels KB, Giovannucci E, et al. Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and Colorectal Adenomas in the Nurses’ Health Study. Cancer Res, 2006;66:3942
18- Trichopoulou A, Katsouyanni K, et al. Consumption of Olive oil and Specific Food Groups in Relation to Breast Cancer Risk in Greece. J Natl Cancer Inst, 1995;87(2):110-116
19- Gandini S, Merzenich H, et al. Meta-Analysis of Studies on Breast Cancer Risk and Diet: The Role of Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and the Intake of Associated Micronutrients. Eur J Cancer, 2000;36(5):636-646
20- Cohen J, Kristal AR, Stanford JL. Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Prostate Cancer Risk. J Natl Cancer Inst, 2000;92(1):61-68
21- Peluso M, Airoldi L, et al. White Blood Cell DNA Adducts and Fruit and Vegetable Consumption in Bladder Cancer. Carcinogenesis, 2000;21(2):183-187
22- Pavia M, Pileggi C, et al. Associaton between Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and Oral Cancer: A Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. Am J ClinNutr, 2006;83(5):1126-1134
23- Daucher L, Amouyel P, et al. Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Meta-Analysis of Cohort Studies. J Nutr, 2006; 136:2588- 2593.
24- Bazzano LA, He J, et al. Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease in US Adults: The first National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Epidemiologic Follow-up Study. Am J Clin Nutr, 2002; 76(1):93-99
25- John, JH, Ziebland S, et al. Effects of Fruit and Vegetable Consumption on Plasma Antioxidant Concentrations and Blood Pressure: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The Lancet, 2002;359(9322):1969-1974
26- He FJ, Nowson CA, MacGregor GA. Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and Stroke: Meta-Analysis of Cohort Studies. The Lancet, 2006; 367(9507):320-326
27- Dauchet L, Amouyel P, Dallongeville J. Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and Risk of Stroke: A Meta-Analysis of Cohort Studies. Neurology, 2005;65(8):1193- 1197
28- Kang JH, Ascherio A, Grodstein F. Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and Cognitive Decline in Aging Women. Ann Neuro, 2005;57(5):713-720
29- McGartland CP, Robson PJ, et al. Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and Bone Mineral Density: The Northern Ireland Young Hearts Project. Am J ClinNutr, 2004;80(4):1019-1023
30- New SA, Robins SP, et al. Dietary Influences on Bone Mass and Bone Metabolism: Further Evidence of a Positive Link between Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and Bone Health? Am J Clin Nutr, 2000;71:142-151
31- Carter P, Gray L, et al. Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. BMJ, 2010;341(c4229):1-8
32- Harding AH, Wareham NJ, et al. Plasma Vitamin C Level, Fruit and Vegetable Consumption, and Risk of New-Onset Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Arch Intern Med, 2008;168(14):1493-1499