Dr Jane McKenzie, senior lecturer in biochemistry and metabolism at Queen Margaret University, East Lothian, Scotland, said processors usually chose premium fish species for ready meals or went for safe budget options.
“There can be cost effective sources of quality fish … but you’re often stuck with fish fingers or cod in batter,” she told FoodManfacture.co.uk. “They are not very creative with the lower end of the market.”
A greater focus on sustainability was also crucial, she said. “It’s in their best interests to be looking out for more sustainable sources of food rather than carrying on sourcing the same old raw materials.”
Prawns and mussels
Supermarkets only tended to focus on about five sources of fish, she added. “Seafood such as prawns and mussels are under-utilised a lot.”
The same applied to school caterers, she said. “We are not creative enough in terms of exposing consumers to the range of fish that is out there.”
McKenzie’s comments followed the release of a British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) survey last week indicating more than 80% of five to 16 year-olds did not eat the recommended two portions of oily fish daily.
The survey was conducted among 27,500 children. UK seafood authority Seafish was supporting the BNF’s Healthy Eating Week, which culminated last Friday.
18% never ate fish
More than half of 11-16 year-olds canvassed said they knew how much fish they should be eating and 18% said they never ate fish.
Karen Galloway, head of marketing at Seafish, said: “These findings back up other research which shows that people of all ages are missing out on some of the essential nutrients and long-term health benefits that seafood provides.”
To celebrate healthy eating week, Seafish has recruited 125 consumers to take part in a free six-week programme dubbed Healthy Happy Hearts.
The scheme provides the group with information and a dietary plan created by Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, aimed at growing participants’ weekly fish intake to two portions, based on National Health Service recommendations.
Tests conducted by the University of Stirling will monitor levels of the beneficial fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6, found in fish oil, in participants’ bloodstreams.
McKenzie told FoodManufacture.co.uk fish consumption was important because it was a vital source not just of omega-3 and omega-6, which studies have linked to heart health, but also calcium and Vitamin D.
Lack of exposure
She said if the food industry used a greater range of fish dishes, it would help overcome the greatest barrier to fish consumption among children: lack of exposure to wide varieties of fish.
Re-education had to start with parents, who made the purchasing decisions and were avoiding buying fish, she said. This was often because they either did not know how to cook it, believed it was too expensive or thought their children would reject it.
McKenzie said she was constantly working with the food industry to boost its use of fish and seafood-based ingredients. For example, one current project concerned marine algae as a sustainable source of omega-3.