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Food/Nutrition Columnist Author: Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN - Food and Nutrition Columnist - Last Updated: Jul 7, 2016 - 5:36:25 PM

Fish For Health

By Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN - Food and Nutrition Columnist -
Aug 11, 2014 - 12:02:38 AM

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(HealthNewsDigest,com) - Eat fish regularly and you reduce your risk for heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, depression, and inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. A recent study done at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine ( showed that eating any type of baked or broiled fish, at least once a week, increased grey matter in areas of the brain responsible for memory and reasoning. This research suggests that eating fish regularly can help delay dementia later in life.  However, if you eat fish regularly you also increase your exposure to mercury, environmental contaminants, and microbes.

Which are the best fish to eat?

It's hard to make a list of good or bad fish because seafood supplies change constantly and any list becomes obsolete quickly. What remains constant are the benefits and risks of broad categories of seafood.

  • Eat fish lower on the food chain. The levels of mercury are higher in larger fish and lower in smaller fish and farm-raised fish.
  • Eat fatty fish, like salmon, that have the highest amounts of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Don't eat raw shellfish. Clams, mussels, and other shellfish get food by filtering large quantities of water through their bodies which concentrates bacteria and viruses in their flesh putting you at risk of getting sick. Cooking does kill the harmful organisms.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program ( and the Safina Center at Stonybrook University ( both provide excellent guides on wild-caught and farm-raised seafood that is safe to eat

Why is there mercury in fish?

Most of the mercury in our environment comes from the air as the result of burning coal or garbage. Many safeguards are required to keep mercury out of the environment but some still escapes. Eventually rain dumps it into oceans, lakes and rivers. Mercury-contaminated fish is your most likely source.

The form of mercury found in fish is methyl mercury. It is concentrated in the flesh of the fish, so there is more in older, larger fish, further up on the food chain - swordfish, tuna, shark, orange roughy, and tilefish. Sardines, salmon and shrimp have very low levels.

An excellent resource to determine your mercury exposure from a serving of fish is: You enter the type and amount of fish you plan to eat, plus your weight, and the site will calculate how much mercury you'll eat.

Is canned tuna safe?

Canned tuna has no equal when it comes to affordable, lean protein, rich in heart-healthy, omega-3 fatty acids. But canned tuna does contain some mercury. The key is to keep the exposure low. Light tuna has less mercury than albacore, which comes from larger fish. Chunk-light contains even less than solid-light. A healthy recommendation is no more than 3 cans of chunk-light or 1 can of solid-light or white albacore per week.

Should I avoid fish if I'm pregnant?

Everything we eat can be evaluated by a risk to benefit ratio. So let's look at the risks and benefits of eating fish. Women of childbearing age:

  • Will benefit from the nutrients found in seafood
  • Should limit consumption of white (albacore) tuna to 6 ounces a week
  • Should avoid large predatory fish (swordfish, tuna, shark)
  • Should eat 2 servings of fish a week

How can I tell if fresh fish I buy is fresh?

Fresh fish and shellfish have virtually no odor. Only when seafood starts to spoil does it smell fishy. Fresh fish has:

  • Clean eyes that bulge a little
  • Firm, shiny flesh and bright, red, slime-free gills
  • Flesh that springs back when pressed gently
  • No darkening around the edges or brown or yellowish discoloration
  • A fresh, mild smell, not a fishy or ammonia-like odor.

Last tip - More nutrients are retained in fish that is baked or broiled rather than fried orprocessed.

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with sales of more than 8.5 million books.

Look for:

The Diabetes Counter, 5th Ed., 2014

The Fat and Cholesterol Counter, 2014

The Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd ed., 2013

The Calorie Counter, 6th Ed., 2013

The Complete Food Counter, 4th ed., 2012

The Protein Counter, 3rd Ed., 2011

The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010

The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008

Your Complete Food Counter App:

For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to:


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