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  • Denise Scott

Why Children Should Eat Seafood

Seafood, which includes fish and shellfish, is a healthy source of many nutrients that help a growing child. This article will outline the benefits of seafood, give guidelines for how much, address safety concerns, and include those who should not eat seafood.

Platter of various seafood which refers to freshwater and saltwater fish and shellfish

Seafood Benefits

Seafood provides an optimal source of high-quality, low-fat, nutrient-dense protein. We tend to think of protein options mostly from beef, poultry, and dairy, yet, seafood is one of the healthiest sources due to its richness in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and low saturated fat content.

Salmon offers one of the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids and is a good source of B vitamins and vitamin D.

Seafood offers one of the richest sources of PUFAs, specifically omega-3 fatty acids and their components, DHA and EPA. As written in previous posts, omega-3s are vital to the development of the brain and immune system. Omega-3s offer protection against autoimmune diseases, heart disease, and other conditions. Research is revealing that omega-3s help to maintain brain health and can aid against mental health disorders, primarily depression, ADHD, and dementia. Some studies have shown that early fish (not shellfish) consumption, in infancy between 6-9 months, can reduce the risk for asthma and eczema.

In addition to PUFAs, seafood is loaded with other nutrients - vitamins such as D and B12 and multiple minerals, including calcium, iron, iodine, selenium, and choline.

How Much Should A Child Eat?

Wild-caught varieties are usually preferable over farm-raised ones, but these are not always available. The American Heart Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the FDA recommend consuming seafood twice weekly. The amount per serving per age is as follows:

Age (years) Amount (ounces)

1-3 1 ounce

4-7 2 ounces

8-10 3 ounces

11-18 4 ounces

Shellfish refers to crustaceans and mollusks and includes shrimp, crayfish, crab, lobster, clams, scallops, oysters, and mussels.

Seafood Concerns

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under a year should not consume shellfish - shrimp, crayfish, crab, lobster, clams, scallops, oysters, and mussels. These can be a source of allergens. Fish (not shellfish) can be introduced to infants with other table foods, but skin and bones should first be removed. Fish offers a softer and less chewy texture than meats and poultry, thus can be easier for a little one to eat.

Safety issues regarding pollutants, plastics, and methylmercury are concerns. High mercury content tends to occur in larger fish, such as

  • swordfish

  • shark

  • king mackerel

  • marlin

  • bluefin tuna

  • grouper

  • tilefish

  • orange roughy

These should be avoided in children and pregnant women. It is best to serve a variety of fish rather than the same type repeatedly to minimize specific exposures. Ingestion of microplastics is considered harmful, but the research is limited. Eating a variety of seafood and not eating it daily can decrease this exposure.

Seafood and shellfish are two of the top eight food allergens, so careful observation is vital when introducing these foods for the first time. (See previous post, Food Allergies in Kids, October 19, 2022)

Children can be allergic to fish, shellfish, or both. These allergies tend to be lifelong. Should a reaction occur, it is best to see your doctor, who will likely refer your child to an allergist for further testing.

Who Should Not Eat Seafood?

Some individuals should not consume seafood.

Anyone allergic to fish, shellfish, or both should avoid this entirely. An allergist can distinguish if someone is allergic to one or both. Some allergies can be severe enough that they should not even be near where fish is being prepared.

Pregnant or nursing women, and young infants should avoid those fish with a high mercury content.

Anyone with a weakened or suppressed immune system, including young children and pregnant women, should avoid raw or partially-cooked fish or shellfish.

Pregnant women, young children, and anyone with a compromised immune system should avoid raw fish, such as raw sushi pictured here.

According to Seafood Watch, some of the healthiest fish to eat include:

  • Albacore Tuna (troll- or pole-caught, from the US or British Columbia)

  • Salmon (wild-caught, Alaska)

  • Oysters (farmed)

  • Sardines, Pacific (wild-caught)

  • Rainbow Trout (farmed)

  • Freshwater Coho Salmon (farmed in tanks from the US)

Whether farmed or wild-caught is recommended is due to some endangered species and responsible fishing practices.

The healthiest way to consume seafood is baked, broiled, roasted, or grilled. Avoid fried fish, salted, or smoked since these are unhealthy preparations.

Consider seafood as an option for getting brain, heart, and immune system healthy fats.

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