We’ve all heard about the health benefits that eating fish can provide—those much-talked-about omega-3 fatty acids can help protect your heart from disease. And eating fish once or twice a week has been shown in studies to reduce the risk of stroke, depression, and other chronic conditions.
But there is of course a downside to consuming fish: overfishing and pollution have caused a chain reaction, which has tipped the ocean’s ecosystem off balance. And the increase in fish farms has created some unexpected changes to the actual nutritional makeup of the fish themselves. And of course there are all of the warnings about mercury in fish: In March 20014, the FDA and EPA issued a new advisory in March 2004 suggesting that pregnant women and children limit their consumption of canned tuna due to mercury contamination. So what’s a concerned parent to do?
Be Cautious With Farmed Fish
Increased demand and competition has created a massive industry for farmed fish. But many of these fish are fed unnatural, genetically modified feed and fishmeal that contains chemicals. They live in close quarters so disease spreads quickly, which means lots of antibiotics and pesticides are used.
As a result of their unnatural diet, these fish actually end up being less nutritious (remember, you are what you eat). In fact, you may be eating more fish to get those healthy omega-3s, but those fatty acids may be reduced by about 50 percent in farmed compared to wild salmon.
Also, be wary of canned and sushi tuna, which has high amounts of mercury. And the type of tuna makes a difference: bluefin toro and yellowfin typically have lower levels of mercury than two varieties that are used frequently in restaurants: bluefin akami and bigeye tuna.
Best fish to eat are: wild-caught Alaskan and sockeye salmon since neither are allowed to be farmed. Other safer choices include sardines (choose Pacific sardines over Atlantic), herring, and anchovies.
Your Guide to Mercury in Fish
The National Resources Defense Fund has this handy guide to stay in the know about mercury levels in different types of fish:
Enjoy these fish:
Mackerel (N. Atlantic, Chub)
Eat six servings or less per month:
Bass (Striped, Black)
Carp Cod (Alaskan)*
Croaker (White Pacific)
Tuna (Canned chunk light)
Weakfish (Sea Trout)
Eat three servings or less per month:
Mackerel (Spanish, Gulf)
Sea Bass (Chilean)*
Tuna (Canned Albacore)
Tuna (Bigeye, Ahi)
* Fish in Trouble!
These fish are perilously low in numbers or are caught using environmentally destructive methods. To learn more, see the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the The Safina Center (formerly Blue Ocean Institute), both of which provide guides to fish to enjoy or avoid on the basis of environmental factors.
** Farmed Salmon may contain PCB’s, chemicals with serious long-term health effects.