A recent article in The Los Angeles Times points out that even the Environmental Protection Agency acknowledges the confusion over fish consumption. Here’s an excerpt from reporter Marla Cone’s article:
The scientists, assigned the task of balancing the benefits of seafood with the dangers posed by contaminants, echoed the 2004 guidelines of the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. But they said the message to American consumers had been fragmented and confusing, and they advised the agencies to develop new tools for informing the public.So, you’re probably asking, “What’s been done about it?” To answer that I’ll reference the title of Cone’s report, Scientists Say Seafood's Benefits Outweigh Risks. You can’t say it any clearer. According to scientists Americans do not eat enough fish. And since fish is high in protein, low in saturated fats, and contains omega-3 fatty acids, we should overlook its contamination issues and gobble up suggested “safe” amounts. What are they you ask?
According to Cone’s report adults, children, and people at risk of heart disease should eat two three-ounce servings a week. Children under the age of thirteen and women who are or may become pregnant, or who are nursing, should eat the two weekly servings, but should avoid larger predatory fish. How’s that sit with you? Let’s see what Dr. Fuhrman has to say about all this.
Dr. Fuhrman recognizes the confusion fish consumption can create. In a previous post entitled Fish: Pollution Risks, he expounds:
Fish and shellfish contain high concentrations of protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat, and contain the valuable omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. These food factors are thought to contribute to heart health and to children’s proper growth and development (there is overwhelming evidence confirming the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids), which is why fish and shellfish are considered to be an important part of a well-balanced diet. Unfortunately, in addition to EPA and DHA, nearly all fish and shellfish contain mercury and other pollutants. Since these toxins in fish have potential health risks, wouldn’t it make sense to look for a cleaner, safer source for our omega-3 fats?Okay, so what about the idea of acceptable levels of mercury and consuming so-called safe amounts of fish? More from Dr. Fuhrman’s post:
EPA makes recommendations for what it considers an acceptable level of mercury in a pregnant woman’s body. As the recognition that mercury damages the brains of our children has increased in the last two decades, EPA has had to lower the “acceptable” level more than once…By now you’re probably wondering what Dr. Fuhrman’s recommendations for eating fish are. In Fishing for the Truth he gives his bottom line:
… No fish is completely free of mercury and other pollutants. If you eat fish regularly, your body is undoubtedly high in mercury. You cannot remove the mercury from the fish by trimming the fat or by cooking because it is deposited throughout the fish’s tissues. I’ve observed that a person’s mercury level correlates exceptionally well with the amount of fish consumed, and medical studies back up this observation. Individuals eating fish a few times a week have been found to have blood mercury levels exceeding the maximum level recommended by the National Academy of Sciences, which is a blood level of below 5 micrograms. Women eating seafood more than twice per week have been found to have 7 times the blood mercury levels compared with women who rarely eat fish, and children eating fish regularly were found to have mercury levels 40 times higher than the national mean.1,2
Choose fish over other animal products, but be aware that the place where it was caught, and the type of fish, matters. Don't accept recreational fish from questionable waters. Farmed fish is safer. Never eat high-mercury-content fish. Don't eat fish more than twice a week, and if you have a family history of hemorrhagic stroke, limit it further to only once a month.And in case you’re interested, in Ten Super Foods to Use in Your Recipes and Menus Dr. Fuhrman provides an alternate source of omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseeds:
Flax Seeds are rich in lignans and omega-3 fatty acids, and scientific studies have confirmed that flax seeds have a positive influence on everything from cholesterol levels and constipation to cancer and heart disease. Use ground flax seed in oatmeal, or add them to whipped frozen bananas, stewed apples, and cinnamon and nut balls. Keep in mind that the scientifically documented benefits from flax seeds come from raw, ground flax seed, not flax seed oil.
1. Hightower JM, Moore D. Mercury levels in highend consumers of fish. Environmental Health Perspectives 2003;111(4):604-608.
2. Mahaffey KR, Clickner RP, Bodurow CC. Blood organic mercury and dietary mercury intake. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999 and 2000. Environmental Health