StarKist Co. supports healthier food options for WIC participants
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — On behalf of StarKist Co., US-base registered dietitian Laura M. Ali, wrote in support of the U.S Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) proposed updates to the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food packages, specifically the expansion of seafood to children and adult food packages.
“As a registered dietitian with more than 30 years of experience, I am pleased to see that the positive changes will bring the WIC program more closely in line with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020 and provide healthier food options for WIC participants,” Ali said.
“Specifically, the strong emphasis placed on increasing seafood consumption among WIC participants,” said Alia in her comment letter in response to the federal notice, “Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC): Revisions in the WIC Food Packages.”
For example, “inclusion of seafood monthly for all women” — pregnant, breastfeeding and partially breastfeeding and postpartum women. Research has consistently shown that seafood consumption during pregnancy is essential for a child’s brain development.
Another example, “inclusion of seafood for 2- 4-year-olds” — Seafood is an important source of lean protein, iron, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids. All nutrients that support brain development and growth.
“While these are significant steps forward, there is still work to be done and we would like to offer three key points,” she wrote.
“Please consider including light tuna in all packaged forms for infants and children,” she said. “While mackerel, sardines and salmon are included in the current draft, a popular seafood choice is missing from the list – light tuna.”
She points out that the Food and Drug Administration’s seafood advice lists canned light tuna as a “best choice” and recommends infants and young children consume 2- 4 ounces of seafood from the “best choices” list weekly.
She also said that canned tuna is the third most popular seafood item purchased in the U.S. “It’s an excellent source of lean protein, B vitamins, vitamin D and selenium,” she wrote.
In addition, canned light tuna is readily available, familiar to moms, and a commonly trusted type of seafood. It has a mild flavor and works well in a variety of dishes that children enjoy including sandwiches, tacos, quesadillas, and pasta. It is also readily available in package sizes that are within the recommended serving sizes for young children.
BENEFITS OF SEAFOOD FOR INFANTS
“We encourage the inclusion of seafood for infants to better align with the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020 and FDA’s Seafood Advice,” she points out.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends introducing complementary foods including seafood beginning at 6 months of age. And the FDA’s recent Seafood Advice encourages 2 – 4 ounces of seafood a week for children 12 months to 4 years of age, including canned light tuna and salmon.
“The primary growth period for a child’s brain is from birth to 2 years of age. The omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, is known to be essential for normal brain function and growth,” she said. “Seafood is an important source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids including DHA, as well as iron, vitamin B12, selenium and vitamin D which helps support children’s growth, brain and eye development and supports their immune system.”
VARIETY OF PACKAGED SEAFOOD SIZES
The comment letter calls for an increase in the availability of a variety of packaged seafood sizes.
“To further increase WIC participants, access to a variety of seafood, we encourage USDA to grant states the ability to include a variety of package sizes and formats for canned and pouch seafood that may not equal or add up to the full maximum monthly amount, similar to the allowance recommended for yogurt within the proposed rule,” she said.
“This flexibility would increase the choices and provide a greater variety that will make it easier for families to incorporate seafood into their meals and meet the recommended servings of seafood weekly for all age groups,” she noted.
“Within the proposed rule you also inquired about the availability of smaller package sizes of seafood for children. We’d like to confirm that there are a variety of small package sizes available,” she said.
According to the comment letter, most shelf stable seafood companies offer pouch tuna and salmon products that are between 2.5 ounces and 2.6 ounces and canned light tuna is also available in 3 oz. cans, which fit within the Dietary Guidelines recommended serving sizes.
In closing, “we know that less than 6 percent of children eat the recommended amount of seafood weekly. And yet, the cognitive benefits gained from eating a variety of seafood, including tuna, is clear,” she said.
“Research has shown that children who eat omega-3 rich seafood have better attention spans, improved reading skills and a higher IQ,” Ali points out.
In conclusion: “It’s critical that we provide a common-sense approach to the types of seafood and the packaging options to accommodate all WIC participants.”