Unless you have been living under a rock (or twenty thousand leagues under the sea) you’ve heard that fish is part of a healthy diet. Besides containing protein and other beneficial nutrients such as Vitamin D and selenium, research shows that the type of fat found in most fish, called omega-3 fatty acids, may help to lower blood pressure, heart rate and triglyceride levels, reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, depression and the mental decline associated with aging. In a comprehensive analysis of human studies, Harvard School of Public health professors calculated that eating 2 servings of fatty fish per week reduces the chances of dying from heart disease by more than one third.
These benefits have nutritionists and The American Heart Association touting the virtues of eating fish and encouraging you to consider replacing at least one weekly meal containing red meat or poultry with fish. Despite these well known health benefits, some who are worried about the safety of eating more fish forgo heeding this advice due to concerns about mercury and contaminants such as the potentially cancer-causing PCBs and dioxins.
Most species of fish consumed in the U.S. contain high levels of selenium, a trace element that acts as an antioxidant by blocking molecules known as free radicals that damage DNA. Selenium is part of an antioxidant enzyme that protects against environmental and dietary toxins, including mercury. Selenium binds to mercury, rendering the mercury unable to bind to anything else, like brain tissue. Good dietary sources of selenium include eggs, Brazil nuts, crab and lobster. In fact, sixteen of the 25 best food sources of dietary selenium are ocean fish!
If you are still wary about mercury, however, you can choose to reduce your consumption of or avoid the types of fish known to contain the greatest levels of mercury including marlin, shark, tilefish, snapfish, orange roughy, swordfish, bigeye tuna and king mackeral. These predatory fish have longer life spans than most fish leading to higher levels of mercury.
Unfortunately, numerous pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins and pesticide residues make their way into the foods we eat, from fruits and vegetables to eggs and meat. Fish are no exception. If you’ve considered purchasing organic produce, grass-fed beef or have changed your water bottle or the grocery bags you use, you’ve made choices based on your health and/or that of the environment. Avoiding toxins, reducing your “carbon footprint” and choosing local and/or sustainable foods have become consumer choice options. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch can help you choose the safest and most sustainable seafood:
Click to go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch »
For most people, the benefits of eating fish regularly far outweigh the potential risks. To the question “Is eating fish safe?” Plenty of research shows the answer is: “Much safer than not eating fish!”