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Safe Fish Choices

December 6, 2008 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

A Fishy Tale

“Eat your fish”. We’ve heard it a million times before from our mothers, our doctors, nutritionists on TV and even a concerned blogger or two. I’m no different. I’m here to tell you to, “Eat your fish … wisely”.

Maybe you’ve read my recent column about smart shopping for produce. Well, this is my smart guide to shopping for seafood. I hope you find it useful for both yourself and your family as well.

Salmon recipeThe reason that fish is recommended so often is because it’s a great source of protein, nutrients and essential fatty acids – like the very well regarded omega-3 oils. Omega-3s are the fats that just about everyone suggests you get more of. They may help us protect our heart health, mental functioning, relieve joint pain, improve the look and feel of our skin and much, much more.

The potential problem with certain fish is that they can be contaminated with heavy metals like mercury. And mercury, in excess, can be very bad news for all of us.

Mercury is toxic to many systems in our bodies – it’s a “neurotoxin”, which means that it can harm our brains and our nervous system. Recent research also suggests that mercury and other heavy metals may put us at risk for high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Who wants that?!

Another area of serious concern involves the damage that heavy metals can cause to developing fetuses and young children. In these sensitive groups, over-exposure to mercury can potentially cause blindness, deafness, learning problems and a variety of developmental disabilities.

So, now that we’ve established just how bad mercury can be for us, let’s figure out how to limit our exposure to it. And let’s not throw the fish out with the heavy metals.

The Natural Resources Defense Council recently put out a convenient pocket-guide to help consumers choose safer fish options. They based their recommendations on tests conducted by the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) and the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).

Here are a few highlights from that guide:

Low-in-Mercury Fish

  • Catfish
  • Oysters
  • Salmon (fresh and canned)
  • Sole
  • Tilapia

High-in-Mercuy Fish

  • Chilean Sea Bass
  • Gulf, King and Spanish Mackerel
  • Tuna (canned Albacore, Ahi, Bigeye and Yellowfin)
  • Shark
  • Swordfish

It’s kind of depressing isn’t it? Maybe so. But fortunately nature has provided us with a way of protecting ourselves from some of the dangers of mercury. And one of nature’s little protectors is a trace mineral called selenium.

It just so happens that many fish are also rich in selenium. And selenium appears to protect us from mercury damage. It essentially nullifies or at least reduces the toxicity of dietary mercury, according to Dr. William Lands – who used to work for the National Institutes of Health.

Since mercury is so prevalent in our modern world, I personally think it’s a wise idea to make a conscious effort to maintain a regular intake of selenium. This is easily achievable by simply taking a good multi-vitamin/mineral supplement or by seeking out selenium-rich foods.

So here’s the take home message: Eat fish regularly. But, eat smart. Choose varieties of fish that are naturally lower in mercury. Use the pocket-guide I’m providing below. And finally, make sure to get some daily selenium.

Associated Links

Selenium Protects Against Mercury

Foods Rich in Selenium

Be well!


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2 Comments & Updates to “Safe Fish Choices”

  1. Kevin Says:

    JP, thanks for such a helpful post.

    I have lots of bad habits to get rid of. I prefer pork (especially fat) to fish. I don’t eat fruits, every time I buy fruits, they rot away before I want to eat them.

  2. JP Says:


    Stick around. I’ll help you eat healthier, one-step at a time.

    Do you ever go out to eat? If so, ask the restaurant staff if they serve any really delicious fish dishes.

    Right now, you seem to have an impression that fish isn’t or cannot be delicious. The trick to change that is to introduce you to a truly tasty fish recipe that will change your mind about fish forever.

    As for the fruit, you could look for frozen fruits instead of fresh. I know I often buy frozen blueberries and raspberries. They keep well for a very long time and you can use them in a great many ways.

    Be Well!


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