Mercury in Fish: Is It Still Safe to Eat Seafood?

How much is too much when it comes to this heart-healthy food?

By Dulce Zamora
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Michael Smith, MD

Many fish aficionados have been using the same gag for years: "Yes, I love seafood. When I see food, I eat it!" Yet, there seems to be nothing funny these days about conflicting reports swimming around on the safety of seafood.

One minute, we're told the fruits of the ocean are filled with harmful chemicals such as mercury. The next moment, we hear that perhaps the mercury in fish isn't as bad for us as previously thought.

Then there's the whole uproar over farmed vs. fresh fish. Some environmental groups have been crying foul about high levels of toxins in pen-raised seafood. Many in the fish-farming (aquaculture) industry, however, insist that what's nurtured is just as safe as what's captured in the wild.

The hullabaloo has been enough to unnerve seafood lovers who are worried about the health consequences of eating fish. It is actually quite a paradox, given that many groups, such as the American Heart Association (AHA), the American Dietetic Association (ADA), and the CDC, fully endorse the health benefits of fish.

Provision and Poison

Seafood is regarded as an important part of a balanced diet, primarily because it contains high-quality protein and omega-3 fatty acids. The latter prevents blood from clotting and protects against irregular heartbeats.

The heart-health benefits of fish are so pronounced that the AHA recommends at least two servings of it a week, particularly fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon, since they contain omega-3 fatty acids.