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  Home » Newsletter » How to Safely Eat Seafood, July 2013

How to Safely Eat Seafood

How to Safely Eat SeafoodIncorporating seafood in your diet has many healthful benefits. Many varieties of fish are loaded with great nutrients, like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals that are beneficial to your health. These nutrients help prevent heart disease, lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. They’re also a great source of low-calorie protein. Not all fish, however, is created equal. Some fish contain high amounts of mercury or other harmful chemicals, which can cause health problems in people, especially in children and women of childbearing age. The following are ways to safely enjoy the benefits of eating seafood while minimizing exposure to mercury.

The risk from mercury by eating seafood is not a health concern for most people, but it can be an issue for pregnant women, women of childbearing age, nursing mothers and children. Large amounts of mercury have been shown to affect the brain development and the nervous system of unborn babies, infants and children.

Even if a woman stops eating fish after she becomes pregnant, the fetus is exposed to what’s already in the woman’s body, including mercury from seafood she ate before getting pregnant. In fact, mercury from fish is typically stored in the body for up to one year.

That doesn’t mean, however, that women of childbearing age should never eat fish. Fatty acid and omega-3 in fish can actually help increase a fetus’ brain development. The FDA and EPA suggest that by following these recommendations for selecting and eating fish or shellfish, women and young children will receive the benefits while confidently reducing their exposure to the harmful effects of mercury.

The risks from mercury in fish and shellfish depend on the amount eaten and the levels of mercury. Nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury. However, larger fish that have lived longer have the highest levels of mercury because they've had more time to accumulate it.

  • Avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury.
  • Eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.
  • If you like albacore tuna, make that your only serving of fish for the week. Albacore tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. 
  • Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. Information about bodies of water with high levels of contaminants is available from local public health departments and by contacting the United States Environmental Protection Agency at www.epa.gov. If no advice is available, eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) per week of fish you catch from local waters, but don't consume any other fish during that week.

Follow these same recommendations when feeding fish and shellfish to young child, but serve smaller portions.

While there is no way to avoid mercury completely (even vegans are exposed to mercury in drinking water and in the water that helps plants grow), the good news is that people naturally get rid of small amounts of mercury in their bodies over time.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (www.nrdc.org) compiled a handy pocket guide to carry with you at the supermarket or restaurant. It can be found here: http://www.nrdc.org/health/effects/mercury/walletcard.PDF . According the the NRDC:

Fish with the highest mercury:

  • Mackerel (King)
  • Marlin
  • Orange Roughy
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Tilefish
  • Tuna (Bigeye, Ahi)

Fish with moderate mercury (Eat six servings or less per month):

  • Bass (Striped, Black)
  • Carp
  • Cod (Alaskan)
  • Croaker (White Pacific)
  • Halibut (Atlantic)
  • Halibut (Pacific)
  • Jacksmelt (Silverside)
  • Lobster
  • Mahi Mahi
  • Monkfish
  • Perch (Freshwater)
  • Sablefish
  • Skate
  • Snapper
  • Tuna (Canned chunk light)
  • Tuna (Skipjack)
  • Weakfish (Sea Trout)

Fish with least mercury:

  • Anchovies
  • Butterfish
  • Catfish
  • Clams
  • Crab (Domestic)
  • Crawfish/Crayfish
  • Croaker (Atlantic)
  • Flounder
  • Haddock (Atlantic)
  • Hake
  • Herring
  • Mackerel (N. Atlantic, Chub)
  • Mullet
  • Oyster
  • Perch (Ocean)
  • Plaice
  • Pollock
  • Salmon (Canned or Fresh)
  • Sardines
  • Scallops
  • Shad (American)
  • Shrimp
  • Squid (Calamari)
  • Tilapia
  • Trout (Freshwater)
  • Whitefish
  • Whiting

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