Fish and seafood are undoubtedly a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals, and those omega-3 fatty acids you keep hearing so much about. Omega-3's support heart health and general development and are important to include in any healthy diet. They reduce recovery time from exertion, speed healing, increase stamina, reduce inflammation and blood pressure, and can inhibit the growth of tumors.
If you enjoy eating fish and seafood, here are a few considerations to be aware of when you choose which fish and seafood to eat. First and foremost is methyl-mercury content. Mercury is a toxic heavy metal that is not easily absorbed by your body and is dumped into the atmosphere in large amounts by energy producers through air pollution. Since mercury is heavy, it falls out of the air and into waterways where microorganisms “methylate” it, making it much more absorbable by your system. Methyl-mercury causes irreversible damage to fetuses, infants and children, including severe damage to the brain and nervous system. Children, pregnant women, and women that have even the possibility of becoming pregnant need to take great care to avoid methyl-mercury. Safe levels of methyl-mercury consumption by other adults has not been determined, so it's best to consume as little as possible. Because the methyl-mercury is in the water, it’s in the bodies of all the fish in the water. This gets complicated because bigger fish eat smaller fish, and the toxin in the smaller fish gets stuck in the bigger fish. So, the bigger and more predatory a fish, the higher levels of methyl-mercury it will have.
The predatory fish that we normally consume and that the FDA has stated are unsafe to eat in any amounts are shark, swordfish, tilefish and King mackerel. There is more of a debate about albacore tuna (not the same as the “light” tuna you can get in a can). Because the fishing industry lobby is very powerful, and the FDA does not want to issue any recommendations that might hurt the sales of albacore tuna, it has not been included on the list of ‘never consume’ even though albacore tuna are just as large and predatory as any of the other fish listed. While the FDA says that albacore tuna is safe if eaten only in small amounts (once a week by the higher risk pregnant women and children group, twice a week by everyone else), no comprehensive study has been conclusive with determining what amount IS safe, and since you don’t know exactly how much methyl-mercury is in any particular fish it’s a reason to at least give you pause and encourage you to eat it only every great once in a while. Pregnant and nursing mothers, women that could become pregnant, and children should completely avoid these fish.
PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyls) are another industrial pollutant that cause problems with fish and seafood. All aquatic life is contaminated with PCB’s, and as with methyl-mercury they accumulate at higher levels in larger, more predatory fish. In high levels, they cause problems with the skin, reproduction, development and behavior. Safe levels are not truly known, so it’s a good idea to limit your consumption of large, predatory fish to a minimum and to incorporate wild caught seafood from the list below only one to two times per week.
Best Choices for Wild Caught Fish/Seafood:
As a general rule, we recommend you avoid farmed fish and seafood altogether!!! While wild fish and seafood typically eat a diet of smaller fish, farmed fish and seafood are fed pellets of food that are made, in part, of the meal and oil from larger fish. So, instead of consuming contaminants like PCB’s in small doses from less contaminated fish, they are consuming contaminants in larger doses from fish that are much bigger. Studies have confirmed that farm raised fish are much more contaminated than wild fish. Fish farmers also use antibiotics to combat infections in less than ideal tank conditions, and that antibiotic use contributes to the growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Additionally, fish producers must artificially color farmed salmon in order to make it look like wild salmon. Farmed salmon is typically an unappealing grey, so dyes are added to the feed in order to approximate the vivid pink color of wild salmon. In fact, farm raised salmon is at the TOP of the list of most contaminated foods available. There are laws in place requiring retailers to disclose when color is added to salmon, but compliance isn't perfect. So just do everything you can to avoid it at all costs.
~Jen & Billie
Billie Shellist, FDN-P
I practice functional nutrition, an approach that allows me to look at your entire health history and help you find the "root causes" of your chronic health complaints.
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