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Ocean Friendly Substitutes for Healthy Senior Diets

Sarah Stevenson
By Sarah StevensonSeptember 24, 2013

Getting plenty of omega-3s is great for healthy senior diets, but in today’s world of environmental toxins and overfishing, choosing the right seafood can be tricky.

Photo credit: Flickr user Jules / Creative Commons 2.0 license

As our loved ones get older, a lot of things change—their physiological needs, their metabolism—but one thing that doesn’t change is the need for good nutrition. Eating right helps protect us from disease and malnutrition, keeps our bodies fit and our minds sharp, and boosts energy levels. Among all the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that we hear about on a regular basis, one nutritional powerhouse that belongs in every senior diet is the omega-3 fatty acid, which is a healthy fat that fights LDL or “bad” cholesterol.

One of the richest sources of omega-3s is fatty or oily fish, such as salmon. Eating just two servings a week of fish can really boost omega-3 levels and benefit seniors’ overall health with protein and other vitamins. But these days, adding more fish to one’s diet isn’t that simple.

Balancing Dietary Health with Environmental Health

Toxicological, environmental, and sustainability considerations make choosing the right fish fraught with complications. That’s why more and more organizations, including National Geographic and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, are putting the word out on ocean-friendly, low-mercury fish. With their suggestions for dietary substitutions, it’s becoming easier than ever to add fish to the menu and maintain a healthy senior diet, while also keeping our oceans healthy at the same time.

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Why Do We Need Ocean-Friendly Substitutes?

All fish are not alike—nutritionally or otherwise. One of the most pressing reasons for watching which fish we eat is the simple fact that many fish now contain levels of toxins that could pose a health threat if eaten too frequently: mercury, PCBs, and pesticides like DDT, among others. Avoiding the fish that tend to accumulate more contaminants—often those at the top of the food chain—and choosing “cleaner” fish is key to helping us keep this healthy source of protein and omega-3s in our diet.

Another issue is environmental sustainability. Over the past several decades, overfishing has resulted in a depletion in many species humans popularly consume. Habitat damage and illegal fishing are also problems. Ultimately, says the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, there’s a limit to the fish in the sea, and it’s up to us humans to promote sustainable fishing and fish-farming practices in order to preserve the biodiversity of our oceans and our food supply.

Eat This Fish, Not That One

Both National Geographic and the Monterey Bay Aquarium have helpful lists of what types of fish it is safe to eat. Some highlights from those lists:

  • Instead of Bluefin tuna, try yellowfin tuna, albacore, or wahoo
  • Instead of Atlantic halibut, try Pacific halibut
  • Instead of orange roughy, try tilapia
  • Instead of Chilean sea bass, try sablefish (black cod)
  • Instead of shark, try swordfish or sturgeon
  • Instead of imported shrimp, try farmed or wild shrimp from the US or Canada
  • Instead of grouper, try mahi mahi, striped bass, wreckfish, or barramundi
  • Instead of snapper, try tilapia or barramundi

Salmon, which is a great source of omega-3s, is nearly always safe to eat, with the one exception of farmed Atlantic salmon.

This is just a quick summary of how to eat fish healthfully and sustainably. Check reliable websites and sources for more details on what types of seafood are safe for seniors, and check out our other senior nutrition resources for information on healthy senior diets.

Have your loved ones discovered any new favorites after switching to sustainable fish? What are your favorite fish recipes? Join the discussion in the comments.

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Sarah Stevenson
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