The Pros and Cons of Eating Fish

( [email protected] ) Jan 13, 2006 05:55 PM EST

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When it comes to eating fish these days, you should be aware of the nutritional pros and cons. Fish is a wonderful source of protein. It’s low in saturated fat and cold-water fish is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. The cons of eating fish have to due with toxicity levels.

In terms of tuna, one of the most highly eaten fish sources, the concern lies with the amount of mercury present in the fish. It is estimated that mercury levels in the environment have increased three to five times in the past century due to industrial operations such as pulp and paper processing, burning garbage and fossil fuels, mining operations and releases from dental offices. Mercury is an element that is toxic in all its forms. In fish, mercury appears in the form of methyl mercury which can be very damaging to the nervous system. The effects of mercury can range from learning disorders and developmental delays to headaches, migraines, muscle aches, depression, memory loss, skin rashes and seizures. Mercury accumulation is a serious concern for pregnant or nursing mothers due to the dangerous neurological effects mercury can have on a fetus or infant.

Large predator fish which feed on smaller fish, such as swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish and shark, have a greater chance of accumulating methyl mercury because of their longer life spans. If you experience any of the above symptoms without a cause and suspect you may have higher than acceptable amounts of mercury in your system, ask your doctor to conduct a heavy metal test of your blood, urine or hair. If you test positive, follow a heavy metal detox plan under the supervision of a qualified health care practitioner.

In March 2004, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced their revised consumer advisory on fish and mercury consumption. Their recommendations are as follows:

1. Do not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury.

2. Eat up to 12 ounces (two average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.

Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury include shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, Pollock and catfish.

Another commonly eaten fish, albacore ("white") tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. So, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.

3. Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local lakes, rivers and coastal areas. 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.

What about Salmon?

In an attempt to avoid the mercury found in tuna, many fish lovers have turned to salmon as a healthy alternative. Salmon is full of protein and omega-3 heart-healthy fats. However, farmed salmon is not as healthy as was once thought. According to several recent studies, farmed salmon contains unsafe levels of dioxins and PCBs. Dioxins and PCBs are chemicals formed by unwanted by-products in a variety of industrial processes. They are found throughout the environment and fish accumulate them mostly from eating other fish and from fish feed. PCBs have not been used since the 1970s, but are still lingering because they persist in the environment for several years. Dioxins and PCBs have been linked to several serious health conditions such as liver damage, immune system suppression and developmental delay in children.

In a large-scale study reported in 2004, the average dioxin level in farm-raised salmon was 11 times higher than in wild salmon. The study also reported the average PCB levels were 36.6 parts per billion (ppb) in farm-raised salmon versus 4.75 ppb in wild salmon. It is safer to purchase “cleaner” salmon in the form of wild Atlantic salmon. I realize this option is more of a splurge, but with consumer demand and pressure, the price will soon fall. Once you eat wild Atlantic salmon in the form of fillet or smoked salmon (lox), you will benefit significantly from the lower toxic load and you will instantly notice the difference in colour, taste and texture.

While low toxic fish sources offer a good source of omega-3 fats, I also highly recommend supplementing with a fish oil supplements daily. Distilled fish oil supplements have negligible amounts of unwanted toxins and have also been shown to be beneficial for heart health, mood disorders, attention deficit disorder, depression, skin, hair and immune system. For more information, visit TrueOMEGA.

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