Good nutrition is essential to supporting a strong immune system, and if there is one food that packs a punch of a wide spectrum of vitamins and minerals, it is seafood.
By Samantha McLeod
Eating more seafood can boost your immune system, especially during the flu season, due to the presence of essential nutrients that support immune health.
Seafood is an excellent source of immune-supporting micronutrients, some of which are hard to get from other foods, such as Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.
Two campaigns – one in Canada and the other in the United States – are currently underway to create awareness on how nutrients from seafood play a crucial role in the function of the immune system and can help reduce the likelihood and severity of viral infections like the flu and common cold.
The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA) and The Fisheries Council of Canada (FCC) recently expanded the “Choose Canadian Seafood” campaign, emphasizing the ease of incorporating nutritious seafood into daily meals.
This initiative prioritizes convenience, health, and sustainability, with the introduction of new partnerships with over 300 Sobeys and Safeway locations across Canada to feature “Choose Canadian Seafood” labels, making it simple for consumers to identify Canadian seafood products.
“A recent study from Dalhousie University showed an overwhelming 86.7% of Canadians regularly make fish and seafood staples in their diets, mainly driven by nutritional considerations,” said Paul Lansbergen, President of the FCC.
“With 64% citing health as their primary motivator, the results underscore the relevance of the ‘Choose Canadian Seafood’ initiative. It’s clear we’re on the right track, particularly with the Millennial cohort, who place a premium on the twin pillars of health and environmental sustainability in their consumption choices,” he said.
In the United States, data from a recent study of more than 420,000 people show eating seafood reduced respiratory deaths by 20 percent. In fact, higher fish and omega-3 fatty acid intakes were significantly associated with lower total mortality.
“Nutrients, the things we eat, are a very important part of how our immune system functions in addition to things like physical activity and not smoking,” said Dr. Philip Calder, professor of nutritional immunology at the University of Southampton and author of a recent peer-reviewed study, “Nutrition and immunity: lessons for COVID-19.”
“The immune system is central to protection against infection. In the past 18 months, weak immune systems have been exposed as a major public health challenge.”
Good nutrition is essential to supporting a strong immune system, and if there is one food that packs a punch of a wide spectrum of vitamins and minerals, it is seafood, said Dr. Calder.
“Seafood is an excellent source of immune-supporting micronutrients, some of which, like Vitamin D, are really hard to get from other foods,” he said.
Seafood also offers a fantastic source of lean protein, essential for repairing and building body tissues.
- Omega-3s EPA and DHA – Omega-3s EPA and DHA found in seafood “are very important to the immune system. They are also anti-inflammatory, that means they can reverse the harmful effects of the immune response. This is a really important effect in the context of immunity. Omega-3 fatty acids are also stellar for heart health. Fish with the highest omega-3 levels include salmon, herring, anchovies, oysters, sardines and trout. This seafood is brimming with essential fats that can help regulate our body’s immune responses.
- Zinc – Zinc helps the immune system work properly and may help wounds heal. It’s found in cells throughout the body. It helps the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses. The body also needs zinc to make proteins and DNA, the genetic material in all cells. Shellfish like oysters, crab, and lobster are good sources of zinc. Zinc is found in fish like sardines, salmon, flounder, and sole.
- B Vitamins – B vitamins such as B2, B6, and B12 all help keep the immune system working properly by regulating inflammation while promoting red and white blood cell development to keep the oxygen flowing while fighting against disease. Seafood, both fish and shellfish, have a variety of B vitamins.
- Vitamin D – Vitamin D controls the function of the immune system. It plays an important part in the innate antimicrobial (an agent that kills microorganisms) response, which helps keep the immune system functioning properly. Perhaps the most important dietary source of Vitamin D is fatty fish.
- Iron – Iron is essential in the activation and reproduction of immune cells. All shellfish is high in iron, but clams, oysters and mussels are particularly good sources.
- Selenium – Selenium, has a role in mitigating viral mutation. It is an antioxidant that helps to lower oxidative stress levels in the body, which in turn reduces inflammation and enhances immunity. All seafood has selenium; tuna, sardines, clams, halibut, and shrimp are all good options to consider.
- Iodine – Iodine is crucial for a healthy thyroid, which in turn regulates our metabolism and immune system. Certain fish and shellfish are rich in iodine, especially scallops and cod. Shrimp is also a good source, as are salmon and tuna.