Good news for fans of fish: new research suggests that seafood may be a healthier — and more environmentally friendly — food choice than beef, pork and chicken.
As reported by CBC, a study published this week in the journal Communications Earth and Environment looked at the nutritional content of dozens of globally important seafood species, while also assessing the carbon emissions produced to harvest them. The study then compared these seafood results to the land-based proteins beef, pork and chicken.
“The really significant result is in some ways something that many of us already had an understanding of — that many seafood systems and, frankly, the majority of seafood available — whether it’s from capture fisheries or aquaculture — are very nutritious relative to other major sources of animal protein,” co-author Peter Tyedmers, a professor at Dalhousie University School for Resources and Environmental Studies, said in the CBC article.
What types of seafood have the highest nutritional value?
So which types of seafood had the highest nutritional value (based on a “nutrient density score” measuring nutrients like vitamins, protein and fatty acids and the amount of less-desirable nutrients like saturated fats and sodium) — along with the lowest carbon footprint (i.e. carbon emissions per kilogram)? Farmed oysters and mussels, wild salmon (pink and sockeye), herring, anchovies and mackerel came out on top, according to the study.
Conversely, when it came to seafood species with higher emissions, certain crustaceans (see: shrimp and lobster) and some cephalopods (think: squid or octopus) had the highest averages.
The type of seafood with the lowest nutritional scores, according to the study, was wild-caught white fish.
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How did seafood compare to land-based proteins in the study?
The results of the study showed that the global average performance of all seafood assessed (weighted by species production volume) had a higher nutrient density than beef, pork and chicken.
The study also found that the global average performance of all seafood assessed also had lower greenhouse gas emissions than beef and pork.
Of the seafood species studied, half rated better than beef, pork and chicken when it came to higher nutrient density and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
Of the three land-based proteins assessed in the study, pork measured just below the average of seafood when it came to both nutrient density and emissions, while chicken showed a much lower nutrient density when compared to the lowest-scored seafood groups. Though beef scored just under the average seafood scores for nutrient density, it also showed much higher greenhouse gas emissions than any of the food analyzed for the study.
What does this mean for non-vegetarian eaters? While there is also research exploring potential downsides to eating fish, the study authors suggest that choosing seafood over land-based proteins more often could be better for the environment.
“Every opportunity there is for seafood to displace, any seafood to displace, a hamburger patty is an opportunity to effect positive climate action,” Tyedmers said to CBC.