As the environment worsens and the fish industry grows, the debate on whether it’s safe to eat fish continues to cause confusion. But based on strong evidence, the benefits of modest fish intake, excepting a few selected species, outweigh any of the possible risks. Simply stated, go fish!
Healthy benefits? Yes, sir! Fish are high in:
- Micronutrients such as vitamin A and D as well as minerals like iodine, selenium (antioxidant), and calcium (especially when consumed with the bones i.e. sardines)
- Lean protein
- Best source of essential omega-3s, which we can only get from our diet
Mercury? Yes, unfortunately… Mercury occurs naturally in our environment (rocks, soil, volcanoes) and is also a byproduct of fossil fuels, forest fires, deforestation and mining. The mercury seeps into the water – under the sea – and bacteria convert it to methylmercury, the form easily absorbed by tiny aquatic organisms. Fish then eat these organisms and we, in turn, eat the fish. Because methylmercury binds to the protein in the muscles of the fish (i.e. fish fillet) there is no way to remove the methylmercury prior to consumption. Some of the main concerns with ingestion of methylmercury involve brain/nervous system damage, reproductive function, hormonal changes, and higher incidence in premature births.
Which fish is better/worse?
WORSE=The larger predatory fish, which eat the smaller fish, have the highest levels of methylmercury in their meat such as shark, imported swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish.
BETTER=Fatty fish that contains oil through the body, not just the liver, are canned light tuna, catfish, pollock, salmon, sardines, herring, halibut, and trout. But honestly, I would suggest downloading the pocketsize Seafood Watch guide that provides specifics by state, and whether farmed or fresh is better (in terms of methylmercury content). It’s the best fish cheat sheet!
What is considered “safe”? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that 0.3mg/kg of body weight per day is considered safe for human consumption. If you want to know specifics on a fish you eat frequently, follow this link.
Local fish? Check local advisories. No advisory? Stick to 6 ounces in one week.
Bushwick Nutrition’s (and EPA’s, FDA’s) dietary recommendations: Eat up to two servings (6 ounces) of low-level methylmercury-containing fish, weekly, for the greatest health benefits. This recommendation also applies to pregnant or soon-to-be-pregnant women.
Canned tuna? Hell yeah! Stick to canned chunk-light to avoid greater methylmercury content. I personally do not love cooking fish at home, so I enjoy canned chunk-light tuna, low sodium.
Pictured above is one of my favorite speedy-dinners: tuna, olives, celery, and tomato combined with a little olive juice. Eat with a few celery sticks or a handful of pita chips.
A following post will talk about omega-3 supplements in detail.