Fish: What You Need to Know About Eating Fish (cont.)

In their statement issued last year the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and FDA -- for the first time -- cited the health benefits of fish.

"Fish and shellfish contain high quality protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids," says their joint statement. "A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish can contribute to heart health and children's proper growth and development. Thus, women and young children in particular should include fish or shellfish in their diets due to the many nutritional benefits."

However, mercury may be harmful to an unborn child or a young child. Mercury may have damaging effects to a child's developing brain.

"It may be prudent to modify your diet if you are: planning to become pregnant; pregnant; nursing; or a young child," the EPA statement adds.

The EPA and FDA advise pregnant women, young women who may become pregnant, or women who are nursing:

  • Do not eat: Shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury.
  • Eat up to 12 ounces a week: Shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish. (An average can of tuna is 6 ounces.)
  • Buy canned tuna carefully. Light tuna has less mercury than albacore ("white") tuna. However, up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week is safe.
  • Check local fish advisories: Locally caught fish should be checked with local EPA departments. If no advice is available, eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) per week of fish you catch from local waters, but don't consume any other fish during that week.
  • Apply these guidelines to young children: They can eat these low-mercury fish and shellfish. However, feed children smaller portions.
Also:
  • Fish sticks: Frozen fish sticks and fast-food fish sandwiches are commonly made from fish that are low in mercury.
  • Tuna steaks generally contain higher levels of mercury than canned light tuna.
Undisputed Benefits of Omega-3 Fats

The omega-3 fats in many fish and seafood are known to lower risk of heart disease and benefit the brain. The American Heart Association advises at least two servings a week of fish like mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon because of these healthy fats.

In a developing fetus, omega-3 fats promote brain, eye, and motor development, the EPA notes.

The mercury in fish and seafood is indeed the big concern -- although there are other toxins like PCBs that have warranted some worry. Mercury exists naturally in the environment, but more is released into air, land, and water by trash burning, fossil fuel combustion in factories, mining, and the dumping of sewage sludge in croplands.


"It's one of those questions that comes up almost every day? mercury and fish."