The health benefits of including fish in your diet have been firmly established. Not only is fish a lean source of protein, but (depending on the type of fish) it also provides nutrients that are very hard to come by in any other food, including DHA and EPA omega-3 oils and vitamin D. Fish are very difficult to match in their positive impact on our health when compared to other animal protein sources.
In recent years, however, we hear more and more warnings to limit our seafood intake to only a few times a week. Pregnant women are even advised to avoid certain fish like albacore tuna, mackerel, and swordfish altogether. This is unfortunate when you consider the high omega-3 levels in salmon and sardines that are profoundly beneficial for a fetus’s developing nervous system and brain.
So why are we being warned against eating such a nutritious food? Well, it’s not the fish themselves that are bad; it’s what is in them that we have to worry about. Due to many sources of pollution – toxic waste dumping, fossil fuel exhaust, and chemical fertilizer runoff just to name a few – the mercury levels in our oceans are now at elevated levels.
Higher mercury in our waters means higher mercury in fish. The larger predatory fish are considered to contain the highest levels of mercury because they consume other fish that contain mercury and the levels increase exponentially from prey to predator. Thus the warnings against consuming the tuna, swordfish, and other large predators.
There is some debate about mercury in fish, and some authorities even suggest that mercury concerns are exaggerated. Many scientific studies have found that mercury concerns have been over-hyped. A 2006 Harvard study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that the health benefits of fish “greatly outweigh the risks” including those from mercury. It has even been shown that selenium, a nutrient found in most fish, neutralizes the toxicity of trace amounts of mercury in seafood.
There was even a study conducted in the United Kingdom, published in their most respected medical journal, The Lancet, which showed that of the 9,000 pregnant women in this study, those who ate the most fish had the children with the highest IQ’s. This was a study, published in 2007, conducted with U.S. government-funded research.
However, if you look at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) web sites, both of them contain warnings about eating seafood while pregnant, explicitly stating that pregnant women and children should not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. Obviously there is still some controversy over this subject.
We know that the U.S. federal agencies are really slow to adopt or change their regulations and recommendations when new and additional research is presented. And it’s possible that they will one day release a statement telling us that they were wrong about this subject too.
However, in the mean time, Kelli and I still eat plenty of fish that we buy from suppliers that have independently certified their seafood as free from harmful levels of mercury. Less mercury could never be a bad thing, right?
We’d never eat tuna or other large fish from suppliers we aren’t familiar with. Because of their extensive sustainability and purity standards, we love ordering our seafood from Vital Choice and highly recommend them. With the concerns of over fishing and pollution, take the time to research your seafood supplier and only buy from ones you trust.