Health and Sustainability brought to you by the World’s Oceans
By: Ashley Gustafson
While health and sustainability may seem like unlinked topics, in today’s society new research and publication has found a probable link between these two pressing issues: The Ocean. Health is without question currently a huge concern in the United States, with more than two-thirds of adults over the age of 20 considered overweight and more than one-third obese. Additionally, as our population continues to grow so will the issue of sustainability or our capacity to maintain our natural resources. Sustainability is a growing issue worldwide from deforestation of rain forests in Sumatra to the heavy emission of greenhouse gases from cross country truck routes that deliver materials from one place to another. Yes, health and sustainability are different issues but thanks to new research they may be a big solution.
The world’s oceans take up a staggering 97% of the world’s surface while as humans we only utilize a minority share in the ocean for food. Western culture particularly, relies heavily on land-based sources of food. This agriculture results in pollution, soil degradation, deforestation, and loss of freshwater sources. Meanwhile we leave an extremely large asset nearly untapped that has the potential not only to provide us with more food in an eco-friendly way but food that is often much more nutritious too. Fish and other marine organisms contain many nutrients like vitamins A and D, selenium, zinc, iodine, and iron. In addition to nutrients, fish contain essential fatty acids that support brain function and keep our hearts healthy too. Fish is a very important source of omega-3 fatty acids since our bodies don’t produce them. Eating a good moderation of fish can help maintain good blood pressure and even help lower high blood pressure. Eating fish also can reduce the chance of sudden heart attacks, strokes, and abnormal heart rhythms. Grilled fish or boiled fish is also a healthy choice in terms of calorie and fat intake, so it can be a great way to lose weight and be healthier. In fact in Asian countries where seafood is the dominant cuisine, life expectancy is four to seven years higher in both men and women compared to western countries who eat seafood only about once a week. Asian and Nordic cultures also have lower rates of obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
While fish may seem like the obvious source of food obtainable from the ocean, seaweed is an available resource that contains monumental health benefits. First there are three different forms of marine algae or seaweed and they are brown algae, red algae, and green algae all of which are edible. The most popular is brown algae which includes seaweeds like kelp. In the United States seaweed is pretty much exclusively used as additives in processed foods and rarely consumed in its natural state. In Asian and European countries seaweed has been used for centuries in salads, soups, stews, and seasonings. Seaweeds are very rich in fiber, iron, magnesium, and niacin, as well as vitamins A, C,E, and K. Like fish, they also possess the essential omega-3 fatty acids. Some seaweed types even have a significant amount of protein which helps to build and repair muscle fibers.
Although fish, seaweed, and other marine organisms provide a plethora of health benefits and nutritional benefits it is an infrequent choice in American cuisine. There are 300 to 500 different species of fish sold worldwide for humans to eat but only three of these types make up more than half the seafood people actually eat. They are the ever-so-popular shrimp, tuna, and salmon. While they are nutritious when prepared healthily, when Americans do consume seafood they often prepare it in unhealthy ways such as frying or heavily salting. Don’t get me wrong, I love fried calamari, but in moderation. In general Americans don’t think in moderation and could vastly improve their health by expanding their pallets and choosing healthier preparations and only choosing unhealthy preparations in moderation.
It is clear that seafood has the potential to aid in many common health problems seen in modern society. In addition to health benefits the ocean also offers a safe haven of better sustainability for future generations. Now before I said these two ideas were linked and this is how: by harvesting and eating more of our food from the ocean, we in theory would be able to cut back on terrestrial agriculture and thus limit negative impacts on the environment. While this is definitely a great solution, it could also become a whole new problem if not executed properly. Everything on this planet is limited and thus to stay sustainable we must monitor and moderate our presence; basically, everything in moderation because nothing is an unlimited resource, even the ocean. Seafood and seaweeds are underutilized food sources that have the potential to not only improve global health but sustainably feed the growing human population around the world. If this balance is checked and controlled the return will be a healthier, sustained planet.