No doubt, eating fish is a healthy choice and provides us with wonderful nutritional benefits. Over the last several years, however, we’ve seen raised concern about toxic chemicals and contaminants in our fish supply, and with good reason: industrial waste causes mercury, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), dioxins, and other environmental contaminants that plague our waters and infest our fish. The good news is, there is a lot you can do to ensure you and your family are protected from these contaminants. Here are my favorites:
- Stick with Smaller and Younger: In general, older and bigger fish tend to have higher levels of contaminants, as they spend more time in polluted waters. Typically, these fish include wild striped bass, shark, swordfish, king mackeral and bluefin and ahi tuna. It is best to avoid these fish as much as possible. The safest fish tends to be wild Alaskan salmon, mahi-mahi, halibut, sole, canned LIGHT tuna (not solid albacore) and many shellfish (shrimp, clams, oysters and Mussels).
- Diversify: Diversify your intake by eating many types of fish, and focusing on consuming fish and shellfish that are smaller, and less likely to contain contaminants. Be aware that there are several varieties of some types of fish, with some having fewer contaminants than others. For instance, white albacore tuna is much higher in PCBs than canned light tuna.
- Rely on the Authorities: Since eating seafood provides so many healthful benefits, it’s important to get it into your diet. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) publish data on all types of seafood, their contaminant levels and recommendations on the frequency with which you should consume different varieties. Also, check local advisories regularly for updates on fish and watersheds that may be contaminated in your area or places you fish. Since pollution levels in our waters can change, check both websites for the most up-to-date data.
- Dining Out: When dining out, ask the waiter or waitress where their seafood comes from. If, for instance, they have salmon on the menu, ask if it is wild Alaskan, farmed or wild from Washington. If it is farmed or from Washington, you know it is less preferable.
- Skin and Bones: Many contaminants reside in the skin and surface fat of fish. Remove these prior to cooking, and if you eat out at a restaurant, remove skin and bones before eating to minimize exposure.
- Pregnant Women and Children: Children and pregnant women do not need to avoid fish all together. As a matter of fact, there is strong evidence that fish can be instrumental in fetus and child development, and that the benefits outweigh the risks. However, pregnant women, nursing mothers and children are advised to completely avoid eating fish that have high levels of mercury, as well as any uncooked or raw fish. Consult your doctor or pediatrician for further input.
Adapted from 52 Small Changes: One Year to a Happier, Healthier You, If you like these tips, you can learn a lot more from the book. 52 Small Changes: One Year to a Happier, Healthier You, is an easy to follow, week-by-week guide to healthy change. Get it now at Amazon.com.