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Swimming Through The Confusion About The Safest Fish To Eat

Posted Mar 19 2009 6:19am
While I am well aware that fish, especially fish rich in omega-3’s are extremely good for our hearts and brains I must confess that I find myself steering clear from it these days because of the countless reports of unclean waters, antibiotic feed fish and dangerously high levels of mercury. Don’t get me wrong, while I myself still enjoy an occasional spicy tuna roll (yep, raw fish and mercury - I really know how to live on life’s edge) I have become so bewildered and confused by the endless rules and regulations that now govern buying healthy fish I rarely buy it to serve to my family. In fact, I’ve grown so alarmed by the mercury levels found in a simple can of tuna that while my kids think they’re eating tuna fish sandwiches they’re in fact eating chicken salad instead – I can’t resist – “chicken of the sea?”

To the rescue is an article in the March 2009 issue of Cooking Light called “How To Buy The Best Fish.” It is a great article to read if you, like me, have abandoned the fish counter altogether because it is just too overwhelming to select wisely. I found this article extremely helpful in not only explaining the different types of fish available and finding affordable omega-3 rich fish alternatives, but with the help of very simply and straightforward language this article helped me to better understand the differences between harvesting methods (i.e. wild vs. farm-raised) and the environmental and health implications of each method on the fish we buy.

Perhaps the most useful piece of information in this article was a list of the “eight safest and most sustainable fish on the market,” which was developed with the aid of several legitimate institutions including the Blue Ocean Institute, The Monterey Bay Aquarium, The Environmental Defense Fund, The Smithsonian Institute and The Chef’s Collaborative. This list cuts through all of the confusion and gives us an easy to follow list of the safest fish to feed our families. In fact, I found this section so useful I now carry it in my wallet along with the list of the “dirty dozen” (the twelve fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticides contamination). What can I say, at almost 43 years old you’ve got to get a bit creative to keep the memory fresh, not to mention eat a lot more omega-rich fish too!

Here is the list of the eight healthiest and safest fish to buy according to Cooking Light Magazine:

1. Albacore tuna (pole or troll caught)*
2. Catfish (farmed)
3. Cod (Pacific)
4. Halibut (Pacific)
5. Pollack
6. Salmon (wild Alaskan)
7. Striped Bass (farmed)
8. Tilapia (farmed)

You’ve probably heard this before, but this article also points out that our children and anyone pregnant or trying to get pregnant should not eat:

Shark
Swordfish
King Mackerel
Tilefish

These fish are very high in mercury due to the fact they are carnivorous. According to numerous studies eating fish high in mercury may adversely affect brain development in young children and fetuses.

Since it is widely popular in our grocery stores I thought it was worth mentioning that it is also recommended we stay away from farm-raised salmon because it tends to me higher in contaminants like PCBs because it too is carnivorous and might eat fishmeal in these potentially contaminated waters.

I hope this article helps clear up some of the confusion for you too. Maybe now I can start buying fish for my family again with a bit more confidence.

For more information call the FDA at 1-888-SAFEFOOD. For a complete list of fish and shellfish with lower levels of mercury click on this link which will take you to the FDA website.

List of Fish and Shellfish With Lower Levels of Mercury


*The FDA & EPA states that if you choose to eat albacore white tuna instead of canned light tuna, eat only up to 6 ounces per week.
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