Following a request from the European Commission to address the risks and benefits as regards fish/seafood consumption related to relevant beneficial substances (e.g. nutrients such as n-3 LCPUFA) and the contaminant methylmercury, the Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) was asked to deliver a Scientific Opinion on health benefits of seafood consumption in relation to health risks associated with exposure to methylmercury.
In this Opinion, the term seafood denotes vertebrate and invertebrate aquatic animals whether of marine or freshwater origin, whether farmed or wild, except aquatic mammals (e.g. whales and dolphins), aquatic reptiles (e.g. turtles and crocodiles), echinoderms (e.g. sea urchins and starfish), and jellyfish, and does not include aquatic plants.
In the present Opinion the NDA Panel has: a) reviewed the role of seafood in European diets; b) evaluated the beneficial effects of seafood consumption in relation to health outcomes and population subgroups previously identified by the FAO/WHO Joint Expert Consultation on the Risks and Benefits of Fish Consumption and/or the CONTAM Panel as relevant for the assessment. These include the effects of seafood consumption during pregnancy on functional outcomes of children’s neurodevelopment, and the effects of seafood consumption on cardiovascular disease risk in adults; c) addressed which nutrients in seafood may contribute to the beneficial effects of seafood consumption in relation to the above-mentioned outcomes; and d) considered whether the beneficial effects of seafood consumption in relation to the above-mentioned outcomes could be quantified.
On the basis of the data available, the Panel concludes that:
a) Seafood is a source of energy and protein with high biological value, and contributes to the intake of essential nutrients, such as iodine, selenium, calcium, and vitamins A and D, with well established health benefits. Seafood also provides n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA), and is a component of dietary patterns associated with good health. Most European Food-Based Dietary Guidelines recommend (a minimum of) two servings of fish per week for older children, adolescents, and adults to ensure the provision of key nutrients, especially n-3 LCPUFA, but also vitamin D, iodine and selenium. Recommendations for children and pregnant women refer to the type of fish and are also based on safety considerations, i.e. presence of contaminants. Available data suggest a large variation in the amount of fish and other seafood consumed across European countries and age groups, as well as in the type of seafood and species eaten, although data from European surveys are difficult to compare, the type of seafood consumed is largely unknown in some countries, and data are particularly scarce for infants. Seafood provides the recommended amounts of n‑3 LCPUFA in most of the European countries considered and contributes to the needs of other essential nutrients, such as vitamin D, iodine or selenium, in some countries.
b) Consumption of about 1-2 servings of seafood per week and up to 3‑4 servings per week during pregnancy has been associated with better functional outcomes of neurodevelopment in children compared to no seafood. Such amounts have also been associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) mortality in adults and are compatible with current intakes and recommendations in most of the European countries considered. These associations refer to seafood per se andinclude beneficial and adverse effects of nutrients and non-nutrients (i.e. including contaminants such as methylmercury) contained in seafood. No additional benefits on neurodevelopmental outcomes and no benefit on CHD mortality risk might be expected at higher intakes.
c) The observed health benefits of seafood consumption during pregnancy may depend on the maternal status with respect to nutrients with an established role in the development of the central nervous system of the foetus (e.g. docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and iodine) and on the contribution of seafood (relative to other food sources) to meet the requirements of such nutrients during pregnancy. No effect of these nutrients on functional outcomes of children’s neurodevelopment is expected when maternal requirements are met. The health benefits of seafood consumption in reducing the risk of CHD mortality are probably owing to the content of n-3 LCPUFA in seafood.
d) Quantitative benefit analyses of seafood consumption during pregnancy and children’s neurodevelopmental outcomes, and of seafood consumption in adulthood and risk of CHD mortality, have been conducted, but are generally hampered by the heterogeneity of the studies which have investigated such relationships. Such studies differ in the tools used to estimate seafood consumption, in the tools used to measure (or ascertain) the outcomes of interest, and in the adjustment for confounding variables.