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.
- Check with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/fishshellfish/fishadvisories/ ) for particular species of fish or bodies of water that might pose a public health risk but appreciate that the levels of environmental contaminants in most seafood are not high enough to pose a risk
- 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 (http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/conservation/research/seafood-watch) and the Safina Center at Stonybrook University (http://safinacenter.org/seafoods/) 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: www.GotMercury.org. 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.
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: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/your-complete-food-counter/id444558777?mt=8
For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to: www.TheNutritionExperts.com.
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