Seafood is probably one of the most confusing foods out there right now. One day the news boasts all of the benefits fish can offer. Then the news warns that certain types are being fished so heavily that they are on the verge of extinction. Not to mention the toxins associated with fish, mercury being the worst offender.
First the good news. Seafood absolutely is good for you. It is a lean source of protein, making it a great choice over fatty cuts of red meat, dark meat chicken or turkey, and processed meats like hot dogs. It is rich in the omega-3s eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These are the goodies we seek out when taking fish oil capsules. They help to decrease triglycerides, blood pressure, and reduce inflammation, thus leading to a decrease in heart disease.
The health benefits of eating fish two or more times per week far outweigh the risks. When cooking fish, remember that fish loses most of its health appeal once it is deep fried, as in fish ‘n chips. Avoid cream sauces and butter, and try to stick with healthy toppings like olive oil and lemon, hummus, herbs and seasonings.
Educate yourself on the fish that are highest in mercury. Think large and predator-type fish when it comes to high mercury levels. These include swordfish, shark, tilefish and king mackerel. Tuna is another high mercury fish, but this does not mean you should avoid it completely. Try chunk light tuna for a lower-mercury option.
This is a great website to calculate your intake of mercury:
The other problem with fish is one of environmental concern. The large, predator fish that pose a mercury threat are also victims of near extinction. There are many tasty fish out there that are harvested in an eco-friendly manner. The September 2009 issue of Environmental Nutrition published a great chart listing fish to avoid, or eat sparingly, and fish to include in your diet.
These fish are either high in toxins and/or overfished to the point of near extinction (from Environmental Nutrition ):
Chilean Sea Bass
Flounder, Sole, Atlantic
Lobster, spiny, Caribbean
Mahi mahi, imported
Rockfish, Pacific (trawled)
Salmon, Atlantic, farmed
Shrimp, imported farmed or wild
Tilefish (Gulf of Mexico/South Atlantic)
Tuna, bigeye/yellowfin (imported)
Yellowtail, farmed Australian or Japan.
When it comes to mercury levels, some populations need to pay more attention than others. Pregnant women, women who are nursing, and young children should try their best to avoid eating high mercury fish on a regular basis. See the post Eating for Two? for more information on eating fish while pregnant.
Note:Environmental Nutrition notes that not all fish were included on either of these lists. More fish selection recommendations can be found at www.EnvironmentalDefenseFund.org.