Smells Fishy to Me

Patrika Tsai Health Guide
  • The experts tell us that we should eat more fish. Then, the experts tell us that eating too much fish can be dangerous because of high mercury levels. This information leaves the average person confused about what to do. Concerns for excess mercury have caused many people to eat less fish than they did before. However, such changes may have a detrimental affect on cardiovascular health.

    First, let's talk about why fish is good for you. Fish is an excellent source of protein. It has very little saturated fat and is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. There are good fats, and there are bad fats. Omega-3 fatty acids are good fats. Benefits of omega-3 fatty acids include lower blood pressure, lower triglyceride levels, slower progression of atherosclerotic plaques, and lower risk of blood clots. These effects translate as a lower risk of heart attacks. Omega-3 fatty acids are also important in brain development and the proper growth of children.
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    Consuming fish does have possible adverse effects. The main concern is mercury poisoning. Mercury poisoning may be caused by eating fish that have been contaminated with mercury. Symptoms of mercury poisoning include memory loss, mood swings, numbness or tingling sensations, vision or hearing changes, swollen gums or mouth sores, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, rashes, muscle weakness, and difficulty coordinating movements like walking or writing. Fetuses, infants and children may have problems in development and growth. Mercury levels can be tested by special blood and urine tests when mercury poisoning is suspected. Treatment is available if needed.

    Given that mercury poisoning is a possibility, it leads to important questions. Which fish are safe to eat and how much is appropriate? Keep in mind that most fish have at least trace amounts of mercury. The key is to choose fish with low levels of mercury. Generally, small fish which are lower on the food chain will have the lowest amounts of mercury. Fish that have low amounts of mercury include salmon, catfish, pollock, canned light tuna, and shrimp. Fish to avoid include king mackerel, shark, swordfish, and tilefish. The EPA and FDA recommend that pregnant women and children may eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) of fish that are low in mercury or 6 ounces (one average meal) of other fish. If you are uncertain of the mercury level, for example, with fish caught by friends and family locally, then eat one serving that week. For everyone else, the American Heart Association recommends at least two servings per week. The benefits of eating fish outweigh the risk of mercury poisoning.

    Fish can and should be a delicious and healthy part of your diet. Just remember that the way the fish is prepared is important, too. Fried fish or fish smothered in cream sauce may be tasty, but these cooking methods will add more calories. Grilled, baked, or steamed fish is a healthier choice.

    If you are lucky enough to live near a fishable area, grab a rod and reel and enjoy the great outdoors as you catch your dinner. The relaxation will also do wonders for your heart. Check with your local health department for any advisories on the fish in your area. Otherwise, I may see you at the local grocer’s seafood section.
Published On: February 21, 2007