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September 16, 2021

A new Nature publication co-authored by National CASC Fish Biologist Abigail Lynch suggests that aquatic food sources, including fish, shellfish, mollusks, and seaweed, are an under-valued source of micronutrients and fatty acids.

Vientiane Fish Market Laos
Popular fish markets, like this one in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, demonstrate the importance of aquatic food sources to communities around the world. (Public domain.)

More than 3.5 billion people suffer from some form of malnutrition worldwide, with one in two children experiencing at least one micronutrient deficiency in 2019. As global efforts look to change the food landscape to favor more sustainable, healthy diets, a major food source is often overlooked because it is underwater: the more than 3,000 different aquatic animals, plants, and algae consumed by humans. These so-called blue foods that come from aquatic systems are a critical and varied component of local diets and economies but are often oversimplified in large-scale dietary analyses (for example, lumped together as “fish”) compared with terrestrial foods and crops. 

A new study published in Nature  encourages readers to rethink aquatic foods as a highly diverse food source that plays a vitally  important role in global health. The researchers created a first-of-its-kind model comparing the nutritional value of terrestrial and aquatic foods and exploring the future impact of aquatic foods on human nutrition. National CASC Fish Biologist Abigail Lynch helped contribute global freshwater fish consumption estimates to the model and is a co-author on the publication. This article is one of nine studies to come out of the Blue Food Assessment, an international initiative led by Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, Stanford University, and the non-profit EAT that brings together more than 100 scientists from 25 institutions to support building healthy, equitable, and sustainable food systems.  

The authors found that blue foods are a source of diverse  micronutrients and omega-3 fatty acids, such that a 15% increase in global marine and freshwater food intake could avert 166 million micronutrient deficiencies by 2030. These results are summarized in the Aquatic Foods Composition Database, a comprehensive global database of aquatic food nutrient portfolios. The team also identified other health impacts of increased blue food production, including reducing consumption of red and processed meats which could decrease the incidence of negative health impacts such as diabetes and heart disease. This effort emphasizes the potential brain, eye, and heart health benefits that could result from increased investment in sustainable blue food production and harvest.

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