Mercury in Fish: Farmed/Farm Fish vs. Wild Fish
Mercury in fish has been the subject of much debate in recent years. Health conscious individuals have chosen fish as a means of decreasing or eliminating red meat intake. With the consumption of seafood on the rise, the FDA strongly advises limiting fish consumption due to mercury exposure.
Although it has been found that mercury poisoning in farm raised fish is higher than fish from the wild, no distinction has been made by the FDA. With these mixed message, many people are becoming confused and not eating fish at all, feeling that the dangers outweigh the benefits.
In America, 75% of the population do not consume at least two servings of fish a week. This is the minimum amount recommended for good health. A government release in 2004 about the potential health risks of eating mercury exposed fish caused a ten percent drop in tuna sales the following year. But even in light of these facts, most experts agree that the benefits of eating fish, far outweigh the dangers. In other words, people would be healthier if they increased their intake of fish to at least two servings per week.
Studies have shown that two servings a week will reduce the risk of death by 17 percent. Some of the best sources of nutrient rich fish are mackerel, herring, halibut and salmon. They contain long-chain omega 3 fatty acids that have health benefits in the body that omega 3’s from plant based sources lack. They also have been found to improve blood vessel function and are one of the best foods you can eat for heart health.
Choosing the quality and quantity of fish is important because of toxic exposures to mercury, pesticides and chemical compounds that have seeped into waterways. Large fish such as swordfish, shark and king mackerel who feed on smaller fish accumulate the largest amount of these toxins. If you are breast feeding, pregnant or want to get pregnant, the FDA recommends no more than 12 ounces of low mercury fish per week. The best way to reduce exposure is to buy smaller fish like salmon, sardines, tilapia and trout.
Another way to reduce toxic exposure is in the preparation of fish. When done properly, toxic exposure can be decreased by 35%. Removing the skin and cutting off as much of the fat as possible will decrease the risk because this is where most of the toxins settle. Bake, broil or steam your fish to liquify any remaining fat and allow it to drain off. Discard any remaining juices. You can substitute white wine or broth to make the sauce.
It is most likely that the fish you are eating came from a farm. If you enjoy salmon you should be aware that the cancer causing toxins dioxin and PCBs are said to be 10 times greater in farmed salmon than wild salmon. They are higher in saturated fat and lower in omega 3 fatty acids and they also have been genetically modified to increase appetite for faster growth. The toxins in farmed fish are especially dangerous to the brain development of fetuses and nursing babies. Antibiotics and other drugs used to treat disease in fish have also been found in farmed fish.
Eliminating fish completely from your diet may not be the best choice. While avoiding toxins that pose health risks is important, the health benefits of eating two servings of fish per week far outweigh the risks. In fact, studies show that eating 2 servings of fish per week can decrease the risk of all disease. To receive the maximum health benefits from fish, choose wild fish, eat the recommended weekly amount and use the suggested guidelines for preparation.