Know Your Fish

Know Your Fish2018-03-23T18:00:15+00:00

How Safe is Seafood?

For over two decades, researchers proclaiming the health benefits of fish – it’s low in fat, high in protein and rich in cardioprotective omega-3 fatty acids – have encouraged Americans to up their intake. The result: each of us now eats a record 16.6 pounds every year, including double the amount of shrimp and salmon we consumed in 1994. But lately, headline-grabbing studies have warned that dangerous contaminants in lakes, rivers and oceans may make seafood too risky.

The biggest health hazard is mercury, a toxic heavy metal linked to neurological problems in developing fetuses and children. Long-living fish have the highest concentrations of mercury. Recent reports from both the Institute of Medicine and the Harvard Medical School agreed with a 2004 governmental advisory that four mercury-tainted fish – shark, swordfish, tilefish (also called golden snapper or golden bass) and king mackerel – should never be eaten by pregnant women, women who may become pregnant, nursing mothers and kids under 12 years of age. The advisory also recommended limiting the intake of canned albacore tuna and tuna steaks to 6 ounces per week for this group.

For almost everyone else, however, the studies determined that the benefits of moderate seafood consumption greatly outweigh the risks. In fact, the Harvard research found that people who have one or two servings of seafood each week might reduce their heart attack risk by a whopping 36 percent. If you are adding more seafood to your family’s diet, vary the menu to reduce the risk of mercury contamination from a single source; choose low-mercury varieties like catfish, shrimp and scallops; and switch to chunk light tuna, which usually averages one-third the mercury levels of albacore.

PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), chemical compounds banned in the 1970s as probable carcinogens, are also found in some seafood. In 2004, a study found that farmed salmon, which accounts for 90% of salmon in supermarkets, contained markedly higher levels of PCBs than wild salmon. The reason: farmed salmon are typically fed a diet of ground fish meal and fish oils, which are high in PCBs. According to a 2004 study in the journal Science, there is a more than sevenfold difference in the PCB level of wild and farmed salmon. Some consumer groups advise that you limit your intake of farm-raised salmon to a single, 8-ounce meal a month. The FDA, however, counters that salmon is a powerhouse source of cardiovascular-friendly omega-3 and that the likelihood of developing cancer from PCBs is much lower than the risk of heart disease from avoiding salmon – wild or farmed.

The Safest Fish Choices

  • Catfish (US farm-raised)
  • Clams
  • Cod (Pacific)
  • Crab
  • Haddock
  • Halibut (Pacific)
  • Herring
  • Lobster
  • Mahi Mahi
  • Mussels
  • Oysters
  • Pollack
  • Salmon (wild, canned)
  • Sardines
  • Scallops
  • Shrimp
  • Squid
  • Tilapia
  • Trout (farm-raised)
  • Tuna (canned light)

Eat in Moderation

Limit your consumption of these fish and shellfish to no more than four 6-ounce servings per month.

  • Albacore tuna (canned white)
  • Blue crab
  • Bluefish
  • Flounder
  • Halibut (Atlantic)
  • Marlin (blue)
  • Salmon (farm-raised)
  • Tuna (ashi or bigeye, yellowfin and bluefin)

Avoid these fish because of the levels of mercury contamination in them.

  • King mackerel
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Tilefish (also known as golden snapper and golden bass)
  • Sea Bass