Monday, December 27, 2010

Fish, mercury and your health

King Mackerel. The fish was a male and weighed...Image via Wikipedia
Americans are adopting  healthier lifestyles by cutting down on saturated fats, sodium, sugar and exercising more. Palates have been now trained to forego the higher fat meats in favor of the lean cuts of pork, chicken and veal.  Fish, and other seafood are en vogue due to their omega 3 protective action. Most enjoy tasty seafood dishes at least twice a week for heart health. But, with these changes there appears to be some cause for concern:  fish contains mercury.  What are the health risks?

How does mercury get into the fish?

Fish is an important part of a healthy diet. Fish contains high quality protein, essential nutrients such as omega 3s, and is also low in saturated fats which make it a prime choice for those who suffer from high cholsterol.

Just how does fish get contaminated with mercury? Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and can be released in to the air through industrial pollution.  Mercury then falls from the air and can accumulate in streams and oceans where it then becomes methylmercury.  Depending on the type, size and age (older fish have more mercury) of the fish,  the degree to which it contains mercury may vary.  Larger fish such as shark, swordfish, tilefish and king mackerel have larger levels of mercury.  Safer and lower levels of mercury are found in fish, shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish. ("What  you need to know about mercury in fish and shellfish" http://www.epa.gov/)

What are the health risks?

Mercury causes health risks for pregnant and nursing women and young children whose brain and nervous system are still developing. For all others, check with your health care provider if you think that you might be susceptible to mercury intake.

What are the recommendations?

Eat  up to 12 ounces per week of a variety of fish and shellfish that is low in mercury. That list includes:

shrimp
canned light tuna
pollock
catfish

Albacore or white tuna has more mercury than canned light  tuna.  So, when choosing two meals of the same fish and shellfish,  you may eat up to 6 ounces of albacore per week.

Avoid, or at least limit:

shark
swordfish
tilefish
king mackerel

Pregnant and nursing women should consult with their healthcare provider for individual instructions.

If you have questions regarding a specific fish, or if you have particular health problems, check with your health care provider, or http://www.epa.gov/ for more information.


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