When deciding if a food is a friend or a foe, you need to weigh two factors — the nutritional benefits of the food versus the potential risk involved in eating it. There are advantages and disadvantages when it comes to eating fish. The most obvious reason to eat fish is to obtain the healthful long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fats. The essential fatty acids — EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) — found in omega-3s are well-documented for their anti-inflammatory benefits, which include reduction of risk for heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, psoriasis, Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis.
In addition to the healthy omega-3 fats, fish is also rich in nutrients such as vitamin D and selenium. Plus, fish is high in protein and low in saturated fat. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish) two times per week. While the Harvard School of Public Health reports that only one third of Americans eat fish once a week. So, what’s the story? Should we be eating more fish or less fish?
The Risks of Eating Fish
Seafood can be contaminated from by-products of industrial processes, including mercury, industrial chemicals (PCBs), and pesticide residues that find their way into our waters. These toxins accumulate most in the flesh of the largest predatory fish, such as swordfish and shark, as these large predators have eaten the greatest majority of toxin-containing smaller fish over the longest period of time. When we eat contaminated fish, the mercury, PCBs, dioxins, and pesticides build up in the body and can result in health issues including mercury poisoning, nerve damage, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and disrupted brain development in fetuses and young children.
This is why the FDA advises that pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children to avoid eating swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish. In 2011, Consumer Reports recommended that pregnant women also avoid tuna as a precaution. According to the FDA, “If you regularly eat types of fish that are high in methylmercury, it can accumulate in your blood stream over time. Methylmercury is removed from the body naturally, but it may take over a year for the levels to drop significantly. Thus, it may be present in a woman even before she becomes pregnant. This is the reason why women who are trying to become pregnant should also avoid eating certain types of fish.”
3 Healthful, Sustainable Seafood Selections With a Lower Risk of Toxins
To be safe and still get the health benefits of consuming fish, aim to choose only the most omega-3 rich fish with the lowest likelihood of toxic exposure. Three of the best options include:
1. Alaskan Wild Salmon
Did you know that nearly 90 percent of the salmon served in the United States is factory farmed? When did this happen? These fish are raised in “aqua farms,” and, sadly, the same mistakes that are happening in land-based factory farms are happening there, too. For example, sea lice are a big problem in these aqua farms, and even though salmon are carnivores, these fish are being fed food pellets packed with GMO corn and soy, and some farms have even stooped so low as to feed pig and goose feces often contaminated with salmonella. The results are sick, micronutrient-depleted fish that don’t even produce the natural red color they are known for anymore and instead must be artificially colored to look more appetizing. The Monterey Bay Aquarium lists Atlantic salmon as a fish to avoid. Make sure you choose the wild Alaskan salmon. A 2004 Indiana University study of more than two metric tons of North American, South American and European salmon has shown that PCBs and other environmental toxins are present at higher levels in farm-raised salmon than in their wild counterparts.
According to the New England Aquarium, “There are five species of Alaska salmon. These are chinook salmon (also known as king, spring and black mouth salmon), coho salmon (also known as silver salmon), chum salmon (also known as dog and calico salmon), sockeye salmon (also known as red and blue back salmon) and pink salmon.” Wild-caught fish can have up to 380 percent more omega-3 than factory-farmed fish according to the USDA National Nutrient Database. (We love the sustainable seafood options offered by our friends at Vital Choice)
2. Wild-Caught or Farmed Oysters
According to a 2007 Time magazine piece on “Fish Farming’s Growing Dangers,” if people chose to eat more fish that are lower down in the food chain (such as oysters), it would mean significant ecological pluses without lessening human health benefits. Seafood Choices Alliance reports that oysters are the most commonly farmed shellfish in the world. Oyster farming is endorsed by environmental groups such as the Audubon Society, Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch and Eco-Fish. According to the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, “Oyster farming is, by definition, green and sustainable. Oysters cannot tolerate the discharge of sewage or other toxins; the presence of oyster farming, therefore, often results in increased awareness and monitoring of coastal waters.” Oysters are loaded with the autoimmune and libido-boosting essential mineral zinc. Additionally, they are not fed GMO-based food pellets and have actually been shown to be environmentally friendly, helping to clean the water surrounding the aqua farm. They are also rich in omega-3s, potassium, and magnesium.
3. Farmed U.S. Rainbow Trout or Wild-Caught Lake Trout (from Lake Superior or Lake Huron)
Avoid wild-caught lake trout from Lake Michigan as those trout stocks are under conservation. Rainbow trout is part of the salmon family, and it’s been farmed and produced commercially in the U.S. on a large scale since the 1960s. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, U.S. rainbow trout that is farmed in raceways, ponds and tanks is a “Best Choice,” because it’s farmed in an ecologically responsible way. (Many wild steelhead trout populations are endangered or threatened.) One rainbow trout fillet supplies more than 100 percent of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for vitamin B12, twice the amount of blood-pressure-lowering potassium contained in a large banana, and nearly half of the RDI of niacin.
Get one of Micronutrient Miracle approved seafood recipes, Speedy Salmon Cakes here!