Eating more fish is definitely a heart-healthy benefit. You might be a little weary, however, of the risk of toxins, like mercury found in some kinds of fish. The safety of farm-raised fish, wild fish and fish you catch is also a concern for many people.
Use this article as a resource to help you learn how you can eat fish safely. Some of the health benefits associated with eating fish includes:
- Generally low in calories
- Generally low in saturated fat
- Generally low in cholesterol
- It is a good substitute for poultry and meat because it is generally low in calories, saturated fat and cholesterol
Cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel and herring are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which appear to decrease risk of coronary artery disease, may protect against irregular heartbeats, and help to lower blood pressure.
There are potential drawbacks to eating fish even though it is good for your health. Some types of fish may contain contaminants like mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins or other chemical pollutants. Fish get these toxins from pollutants in lakes, rivers and oceans. Other disease-causing organisms, bacteria, viruses and parasites also infect fish just the same way that poultry and meat can be infected.
Although the Food and Drug Administration regulates seafood to reduce potential hazards, you still need to safely store, prepare, cook and serve fish to help reduce your risk of contracting food-borne illnesses. One of the major contaminants found in fish is mercury. Large, predatory fish like tilefish, swordfish and king mackerel tend to have higher levels of mercury.
The Environmental Protection Agency report that for most people the amount of mercury they consume by eating fish is not a health concern. There are two locations from which our fish purchased in the grocery store come from.
- Fish caught in the wild such as an ocean, river or freshwater lake
- Fish raised on a fish farm Farm-raised fish may have more total fat, calories and higher levels of contaminants due to toxins present in the feed given to fish. Farm-raised fish is more readily available and often cost less.
State or federal governments set harvest limits on commercially harvested fish that make them more expensive. The United States requires labels on consumer fish products that states either “farm-raised” or “wild.” Wild fish may also be harvested for personal consumption by sport anglers. Fish caught by sport angling are not held to the same standards as fight caught commercially.
The FDA regulates commercial fish to help ensure safety. Advisories in each state is responsible for protecting residents from the health risk of eating wild fish, for example, which types and much fish is safe to eat. If you are unable to find local advice, the FDA and EPA recommend you limit consumption of fish from local waters to about 6 ounces a week. Most people do not eat enough fish and have no need to worry of eating too much to cause a health concern.
The American Heart Association recommends at least two, 3-ounce servings of fish – preferably omega-3-rich fish – each week. For most consumers, especially those at risk for heart disease, the omega-3 benefits of eating fish regularly outweighs the potential risks.
For women who might become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers and children younger than age 5, the FDA and EPA recommend the following:
- Avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish due to the high levels of toxins
- Eat up to 12 ounces per week of fish and shellfish that contain low levels of mercury
Sources include: shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, Pollock, catfish. Limit intake of albacore tuna to 6 ounces per week. You don’t have to avoid seafood altogether if you are in any of the above groups.
In fact, some studies suggest that not enough seafood during pregnancy may contribute to poor verbal skills, behavioral problems and other developmental issues during childhood. In addition to the many governmental safety precautions in place, you still need to safely store, prepare, cook and serve fish. Review the following tips:
- Never consume raw seafood, particularly raw shellfish
- Wrap fresh fish in a plastic bag securely and store in your refrigerator
- Eat fresh fish within two days, most preferably the day of purchase
- Store frozen seafood no more than six months
- Do not refreeze fish
- Defrost frozen seafood in the refrigerator just before cooking or for quicker thawing, place frozen fish in a sealed bag and immerse in cold water
- Wash hands, cutting boards and utensils with soap and water after coming in contact with fish
- Allow 10 minutes cooking time for every inch of thickness for medium-cooked fish
- Use a fork or the tip of a knife to cut into the fish to see if it is done.
When done the fish should separate into flakes and appear opaque throughout.
By Connie Limon
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