Growing up, I was always told that fish was brain food and I went through phases of loving it and hating it. I’m currently in the I’m thinking about it phase due to a rotten case of food poisoning. But in general I love seafood, especially raw. However, during my pregnancy I was very conflicted about what and how much seafood I could eat. Studies have shown that DHA is an important factor in brain and eye development. And a recent ALSPAC study (ALSPAC is a long-term health research project) suggests that DHA and fatty acid metabolism is related to higher verbal IQ by age 8. They aren’t sure what and how this is related to fish, but it was one of the factors that they used. Eating fish high in Omega 3’s such as wild salmon has been linked to lower levels of depression.

The USDA recommends 8 ounces of fish per week. The FDA & EPA recommend up to 12 ounces per week of low mercury fish.

Regardless, we know that fish is good for you, but what to do about all the information regarding mercury levels in fish? You have to choose your fish wisely. There are several fish that women should avoid all together: shark, king mackerel, tilefish & swordfish. And there are fish that have moderate to high levels of mercury that should not be consumed too often. Add to that the disasters that have happened around the world with oil spills and the recent nuclear crisis in Japan and that can leave you thoroughly baffled on what you can and can’t eat.

Why do I need to be concerned with mercury? Mercury is a naturally occurring element in our environment. It is released into the air and from there falls into the ocean and other bodies of water. Sea life then absorbs this as methylmercury and it is then transferred to the consumer. Mercury levels in people decrease eventually, but it can take up to a year or more for these levels to significantly decrease if you are eating a lot of higher mercury fish. Fish that have lived longer and are larger naturally have higher levels of mercury – that’s why some of the largest fish in the sea are on that don’t eat list.

Fish should also be consumed by toddlers and children as the benefits of low mercury fish outweigh the risks. Wild salmon, cod, mackerel (the small ones) herring, anchovies and sardines are all excellent sources of fish oil. There is no controversy over whether or not fish is good for you. Study after study points to the benefits of DHA, so you just need to choose your fish wisely.

Here’s a list of good choices:
  • Tilapia
  • Cod
  • Crab
  • Freshwater Trout
  • Anchovies
  • Sardines
  • Wild Salmon (never choose farmed)
  • Shrimp
  • Oysters
  • Haddock
  • Herring
Fish that you should avoid:
  • Swordfish
  • Shark
  • Tilefish
  • Orange Roughy
  • King Mackerel
  • Tuna (Bluefin, Bigeye, Ahi)
  • Marlin
Alternatives to your favorites:
  • Instead of Bluefin Tuna, opt for Albacore Tuna
  • Instead of Atlantic Salmon (all of it, even that labeled wild is farmed and will soon be genetically engineered) opt for Wild Alaskan Salmon
  • Instead of Sole, Flounder or Halibut (They are not at sustainable levels), opt for Tilapia
  • Instead of Imported King Crab, always opt for domestic (again this is a sustainability issue)
  • Instead of Imported Shrimp, always opt for domestic as imported shrimp is one of the most contaminated foods
I hope that helps some of you wade through the waters when choosing seafood. There are also a few great apps out there that can help you make better choices when eating seafood in restaurants. I like Mercury in Fish as well as Seafood Watch by the Monterey Bay Aquarium that lets you know what is overfished, and what is sustainable to eat.
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