We’ve all heard how important it is to include fish in our diet to improve our overall health. However, most of us have also heard we need to be cautious about eating fish because of possible contamination with mercury, PCBs, and other toxins. Throw in ecological “devastation” and it can make choosing to eat fish a daunting task! So what are we to do?
To minimize your risk of consuming fish that have been contaminated with mercury or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), avoid large fish. Large fish are “longer lived” which is one reason they have higher levels of mercury and PCBs. This would include shark, tilefish, king mackerel, swordfish, and bluefin tuna. Some smaller fish, such as grouper, may also have high levels of toxins.
As far as the health benefits of fish, a major reason why fish is so good for us is because in general it is low in saturated fat (the “bad” fat), and is usually a good source of omega 3 fatty acids (one of the “good” fats). Omega 3 has gotten a lot of press for its anti-inflammatory properties, its ability to lower triglycerides, its anti-clotting factors, as well as a host of other potential benefits. The types of omega 3 fatty acids from “marine” sources tend to be the most readily used by the human body. The type of omega 3 from land plant sources is not as readily used (our bodies have to convert it to the other types before it is efficiently used). Therefore, seafood omega 3 is the most highly recommended.
If you enjoy seafood and want to get the most health benefit out of it, while minimizing your impact on the ocean, develop a relationship with the person selling you fish! This person should be able to answer any questions you have about the fish (where it comes from, if it is farm raised what it is fed, if it is “overfished,” etc.).
Wild fish are usually a safe option. The Marine Stewardship council puts its blue and white logo on fish coming from fisheries that minimize the impact on the environment, keep populations within sustainable levels, and meet all laws of sustainability (local, national, and international). Shopping from fisheries that are certified will minimize your chances of consuming wild fish that have high levels of PCBs. Some examples of “safe” wild seafood include Alaskan salmon, US North Pacific sablefish, and Oregon pink shrimp.
Farmed fish may also be a good option if coming from well-regulated farms. Some examples of good choices include domestic barramundi, rainbow trout, oysters and mussels.
Some domestic shrimp farms are classified as livestock farms and therefore have been able to obtain USDA organic certification. However, the USDA does not offer organic certification for other types of seafood that are classified as aquaculture farms. Keep in mind that you may see an “organic” label on fish that comes from international producers.
To summarize, the following fish are good for you and for the ocean: anchovies, Atlantic mackerel, farmed rainbow trout, farmed oysters, Alaskan or Canadian sablefish, wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, and US farmed shrimp.