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Heart-healthy seafood campaign in area renewed

The national nonprofit Seafood Nutrition Partnership has renewed its campaign in the Kanawha Valley to encourage area residents to increase consumption of seafood to improve the healthiness of their diets. Charleston is one of nine cities chosen nationally for a three-year public health campaign promoted by the partnership to encourage healthier diets through consumption of more seafood.

Part of the renewed campaign includes getting area residents to sign a Heart Healthy Pledge, committing to consuming at least two servings of seafood a week, said Mike Fulton of the Asher Agency, which has been helping to spearhead the campaign in the area.

“We’re out there doing a number of events,” Fulton said.

More than 50 people signed the pledge at a recent Highmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield healthy cooking class at the Charleston Marriott Town Center, said Fulton.

Charleston’s SNP coalition — including restaurant owners and chefs, health providers, nutrition experts, association executives, business people, educators, and students — aims to encourage 6,500 area residents to sign the pledge during this year’s campaign.

“The USDA dietary guidelines recommend eating seafood twice a week for optimal health, yet only one in 10 Americans follow this advice,” said Dr. Tania Babar, a Charleston native who practices medicine at the Charleston Area Medical Center and teaches at West Virginia University Health Sciences Charleston Division.

One of the reasons the area was chosen for the national campaign was the rate of cardiovascular disease in the Kanawha Valley and state, said Babar. “The amount of heart disease in the valley is enormous. Whenever there’s a national poll in terms of cardiovascular disease or obesity, West Virginia and Charleston seem to always fare on the bottom of that list.”

She said you know things are bad when you see West Virginians in their 30s undergoing bypass heart surgery, said Babar. “To me, that’s just incredible.”

The twice-a-week seafood recommendation is a helpful message because of its simplicity, she said. “People get overwhelmed when you throw a lot of different things at them. “One of the reasons I got involved with the campaign is because I felt it’s something easy that I feel people can do.”

This year’s campaign is focused on getting area residents to sign on to the Heart Healthy Pledge, which will also provide them with useful resources, she said. Signing the pledge becomes a sort of a commitment for persons signing up, but they’ll also receieve a newsleter with recipes and dietary information, she said. “A lot of people have questions about how to prepare fish. It kind of gives them the opportunity to tap into a resource as well.”

The twice-a-week goal could include seafood from the ocean and fish out of West Virginia’s rivers and streams, said Cindy Fitch, associate dean of programs and research at WVU Extension Service, based in Morgantown.

“Seafood has got a lot of health benefits,” Fitch said. “One, it’s a good high-quality protein source that’s low in fat. The kind of fat it has is particularly beneficial for people — its Omega 3 fatty acids.”

We tend to get a lot of other kinds of fats in our diet, including Omega 6 fatty acids, Fitch said. “We don’t get a lot of Omega 3. The difference between the two is that Omega 3 fatty acids help to open up the blood vessels so blood flows more freely. They prevent blood clotting and they decrease inflammation.”

All of those benefits are important to help prevent heart attacks and lower blood pressure, she said. “Omega 3 fatty acids also have been linked to better brain health with less chance of dementia as we age, and even less depression.”

Research is still ongoing about the brain-health link, she added. “Research is really strong on the heart health. It’s not so strong yet on the brain health. “It’s kind of tantalizing. If we get better at doing that research and it proves true, that’d be great.”

Fulton said the Asher Agency is looking for other partners and events to get the message out and to get more people signing on to the pledge.

“We have a goal of reaching 6,500 people in the Kanawha Valley,” he said. “That is a pretty high hurdle. So we’re going to need a lot of help from our coalition members and friends.

“It’s just how can we get more people to join the bandwagon to promote seafood and help us get more people signed up for this healthy heart pledge, which gets them in the loop for information, coupons, recipes and reminders about having seafood at least twice a week,” he said.

The Seafood Nutrition Partnership is a nonprofit organization funded by both public and private sectors companies and organizations, such as Trident Seafoods, Gortons, Bumble Bee, the National Fisheries Institute, Long John Silver’s, Ocean Beauty Seafoods, the American Seafoods Group and the Clinton Global Initiative, among other supporters and donors. For more on the group, visit seafoodnutrition.org.

Reach Douglas Imbrogno at douglas

@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-3017 or follow @douglaseye on Twitter.

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