By Michael L. Hopen, M.D.
Ophthalmologist, Indiana Eye Clinic

October is National Seafood Month, and the Indianapolis coalition of the Seafood Nutrition Partnership is urging Hoosiers to incorporate more fish into their diet.

You may already know that fish and other seafood are a huge tool for better heart health. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., and as a nation we spend $273 billion per year treating it.

Seafood is one of the healthiest proteins you can eat, high in Omega-3 fatty acids that help make up that “good cholesterol” you’ve probably heard your family physician talk about.

As an eye surgeon, I decided to join the SNP coalition myself as a way to let people know that seafood has another benefit of which they may not be aware: helping you see better. Eating seafood contributes greatly to the health of the eye, and can help stave off diseases that can rob you of your vision.

I have long recommended to my patients that they increase the amount of seafood in their diet. Omega-3’s are beneficial for various aspects of the eye, especially maintaining the health of the surface of the eye. Many vision problems can occur when the eye is not properly lubricated or the outer layer is weakened.

Seafood can be especially beneficial to the eyesight in young children and infants, as it is proven to contribute to vision development and nerve growth in the retina. Malnutrition can also increase susceptibility to eye conditions like cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

In its Dietary Guidelines, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends we eat at least two servings of seafood a week. But only about 20 percent of Americans actually do. Hoosiers on average consume even less.

The health benefits of a diet high in seafood are clinically proven. Eating just eight ounces per week reduces the risk of dying from heart disease by at least 36%. Adults with blood levels high in the fatty acids found in fish on average live 2.2 years longer.

A lot of people don’t eat seafood because it wasn’t served much in their household growing up. They feel they don’t know how to cook it properly, or worry about the cost.

You can visit the SNP website at seafoodnutrition.org for recipes and coupons to assist in adding more seafood to your diet. Or go to seafoodindy.org for a list of local events this month. You can even sign up for their newsletter to receive regular updates and encouragement via email.

Any kind of seafood is good for you, whether you buy it fresh, frozen or even canned. Though try to avoid deep frying if you can – all that batter and oil is high in fat and bad cholesterol!

Make an effort this month to try some new seafood dishes. Experiment, find things you like and add them to your regular meal rotation. Together, we can enjoy longer, healthier lives – and better eyesight — if we just pick fish more often at meal time.