Health and the environment. They may seem unrelated, but, in fact, where they meet is the sweet spot for U.S. consumers, who increasingly are intertwining their commitments to eating healthier and becoming better environmental stewards. A key part of this sustainable-diet revolution is a swap of red meat for healthy proteins, including sustainably caught wild seafood from Alaska.
It’s no secret that seafood provides tremendous health benefits to the general population, as well as specific benefits to target populations. Michael Kohan, seafood technical director with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, explained that Alaska seafood, the nation’s largest source of domestic wild-caught, sustainable seafood, provides essential omega-3 fatty acids — DHA and EPA. These nutrients are essential to promoting heart health, suppressing inflammatory responses, improving blood flow and participating in brain function.
“Alaska seafood is also a complete source of protein, meaning that it contains all nine of the essential amino acids necessary for our diet,” she added. “As a complete source of protein, it is a crucial building block for muscle protein, enabling the body to regenerate damaged tissues and strengthen areas where injuries have occurred. And seafood is a great source of micronutrients, like vitamin D, vitamin B-12, zinc and selenium.”
Kohan noted that these nutrients are crucial from the beginning of life to later years. DHA, for instance, plays a key role in cognitive functions for infants and young children. That same DHA can lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Of course, you have to eat enough seafood to reap these nutritional benefits. According to the United States Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Humans Services (HHS) 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, we should eat 4 ounces of seafood at least twice weekly.
But here’s the missing link that your customers may not be aware of: Combining plants with seafood as part of a healthy diet can create a brilliant nutrient synergy. Combining the two doesn’t just fill in nutrient gaps; it can also better enable our bodies to metabolize nutrients. ASMI recently produced a resource describing the nutritional synergies of plants and Alaska seafood.
Kohan offered an example. Fatty fish from Alaska, such as Alaska king salmon and sablefish, work alongside plants and seeds rich in vitamins A, E and K — think leafy greens and sunflower seeds — to help those plant nutrients be more readily absorbed in the body.
“Vitamin C-rich foods, like lemon, leafy greens, tomatoes and bell peppers, combined with iron-rich wild Alaska seafood helps that heme iron be absorbed,” she said. “There are two forms of iron in food, heme and non-heme. Non-heme is found in plants, but its absorption can vary. Heme iron is found in animal sources of food, like seafood, and has a higher rate of absorption in the body. Pairing the two provides a great nutritional delivery system.”
The combinations are endless, easy to prepare and delicious. Think Alaska pollock fish tacos with bell peppers or a strawberry-and-avocado salsa, a bed of sautéed spinach and toasted pine nuts topped with grilled halibut, an arugula-and-mandarin orange salad with crab, or salmon burgers with a side of sweet potato fries made in an air fryer.
Jason Driskill, director of seafood at food retailer H-E-B, said the company has recognized the significance of this nutritional synergy and is actively educating customers.
“I think cross-marketing between seafood and produce is a natural fit,” he said. “Both categories complement each other by providing consumers essential vitamins and nutrients. With the vast assortment that both categories offer, there is always an opportunity to do more customer education about pairing recommendations, product attributes and cooking techniques.”
He added that H-E-B also finds displays that offer convenience for both seafood and produce in the form of a meal solution tend to do very well with customers wanting to eat healthy but who lack preparation time.
For retailers whose customers are committed to a healthy diet, it’s not a leap to understand they’re also eager to support sustainable fisheries. But any assist by retailers helps make it easier for consumers to make the right choice for them—and Alaska seafood can be a reassuring choice.
“I think everybody in the world agrees Alaska is a model of seafood sustainability,” ASMI’s Kohan said. She explained that Alaska seafood resources are so important that sustainability was actually written into the state’s constitution six decades ago. The overall philosophy in Alaska is hands-on management of each fishery with checks and balances that incorporate environmental, socio-economic, and ecosystem dynamics that affect Alaska’s fisheries and fishing communities. The investment in conservative management represents how Alaskans want to ensure a healthy, wild, and sustainable harvest for generations to come.
“Alaska’s fisheries management process works with all of our stakeholders in Alaska to be able to make sure that every voice is heard on management issues so that our fisheries are not only sustainable, but they’re also representing how Alaskans want to conservatively manage our resources,” Kohan said.
H-E-B’s Driskill agrees. “Alaska has a longstanding heritage of communities devoted to maintaining a positive balance between the environment and its thriving fisheries,” he said. “Our customers understand the importance of this, and we are proud to bring Alaska seafood to our stores. A number of our partners in Alaska have done great work innovating their products toward convenience so more customers can enjoy the benefits of seafood.”
Driskill emphasized that sustainability is a guiding principle for everything the retailer sources. “The connection and story behind food are important to customers, therefore, having a fully traceable and transparent seafood supply they can trust is key.” Just as important, he said, is customer interest in healthy eating. “And seafood plays a vital role in supporting a healthy diet. We feel it is our obligation to provide a robust assortment of high-quality seafood and to increase customer confidence in this category. Seafood is easy to cook, and there is an abundance of options for different tastes and preferences.”