It’s Fish- It’s Healthy, Right?

Many of us have memories of canned chunk light tuna sandwiches for lunch or frozen fish sticks for dinner.

My personal favorite:  the Friday night Howard Johnson’s fried clam dinner.

As appetizing (or not) as these may be, there is much more to know about the health benefits, hazards, and variety of fish that should be included in a healthy whole foods diet.

HEALTH BENEFITS

In the book, The Blue Zones, Dan Buettner highlights 6 zones around the world with the highest concentration of centenarians. A key component of many of these plant-based diets is: fresh fish.

Fish is a low-fat source of quality protein!  It is also rich in a variety of nutrients such as calcium, B2 and phosphorus.   A great source of minerals, fresh fish contains a great amount of iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium, and potassium.  Many of these lower blood pressure and reduce cardiovascular, stroke, Alzheimer’s and chronic disease risk.

Smaller and fattier fish, such as wild sardines, mackerel and wild Alaska salmon, are a source of the much-needed Omega-3 fatty acids.  Our bodies are unable to produce such fatty acids like EPA and DHA but show significance in fetal brain development.  Studies also show a 30% reduction in cardiovascular risk when 1-2 servings of fatty fish are eaten per week.

HEALTH HAZARDS

Although fish provide a lot of health benefits, there are some health risks- especially for pregnant women and for those eating farmed fish.

Pollution is ubiquitous in both fresh water and ocean sources of fish.  Common fish contaminants of concern are mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, and pesticide residues. Very high levels of mercury can damage nerves in adults and disrupt brain and nervous system development in infants and young children. Conversely, developing fetuses need the DHA and EPA found in fish.   There is a clear balancing act that needs to be done by pregnant women to get the amount they need without getting too much mercury.  Mercury,  a metal that accumulates in the body, cannot easily be removed. PCB’s  in large exposure amounts can increase cancer risk.  Dioxin and several other pesticides are found to have the same increased risk.  Canned fish run the risk of increased mercury, aluminum and BPA from the can.

WHAT MAKES FARMED FISH SO UNHEALTHY?

•Farmed fish can have as much as 20 % less protein than wild caught fish and higher levels of inflammation-causing omega-6 fats because of their corn and soy-based feed.

• Fish are often raised in crowded conditions and given antibiotics. PCB’s can be 16x higher and dioxin up to 11x higher.

• Canthaxanthin, which is found in sunless tanning pills, used to give farmed Salmon their pink color, affects retinal pigment.  This has been banned in Europe…but not in the US. These fish, especially salmon, can escape and unknowingly breed with wild fish to deplete the natural pool and reduce the health benefits.

RECOMMENDATIONS

So, what is a health-conscious consumer to do?

• Pregnant women and children should limit their intake of fish to no more than twice a week of fresh or frozen wild caught, low mercury fish.

• Eating fish caught in a local river or lake?  Check with the state natural resources department for mercury levels and recommendation for consumption.

• Most adults should include 3 or more servings of wild caught, low mercury fish. Avoid farmed and canned fish as much as possible.

Note the Environmental Working Group’s Best Bets:

 

And as you incorporate more fish into your whole-foods diet, be sure to reference the FDA’s recommendations on serving sizes, frequency and general consumption.

The FDA recommends: 

 

With access to fresh fish year-round, we have some wonderful options in our area.

Many healthier choices are available!

 

 

 

 

 

Take a drive to your favorite fish purveyor and experiment with new dishes as part of your healthy, whole-foods diet.

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