To eat or not to eat fish…The current verdict, given recent studies on toxicity levels, seems to be solidly out about whether they are “good” or “bad” for our health. We are left wondering which seafood is safe to eat, if any, and how often we should be consuming it.
With so many questions about farmed fish, wild fish, foreign fish, GMO fish, bottom feeders, contaminated fish, large fish, small fish, one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish….it’s enough to say: “The heck with it! We’re having steak for dinner!” But before you swap your lovingly broiled salmon for a juicy steak, consider a few facts that might help you to navigate the waters of “101 Seafood Eating Safety.”
First off, let’s start with the two main categories of fish (as food): wild and farmed. As a general rule, always opt for wild. There are exceptions as some farmed seafood can be raised cleanly and sustainably, but these exceptions are few. Farmed fish are commonly given antibiotics, and their feed is tainted with pesticides. The waters the fish farms are located in can also be dirty from surrounding pollution or the from the fish waste itself. Often, farmed salmon are fed smaller fish from other fisheries, usually anchovies. These tiny, oily fish help give the salmon the omega-3 fats touted for anti-inflammatory health benefits. However, couldn’t we just eat the anchovies, rather than depleting the anchovy fishery just to feed a more popular fish? ALL “Atlantic salmon” found on menus and in stores is farmed, and thus should be avoided (true wild Atlantic salmon is an endangered species and thus illegal to fish). As we now know, farmed salmon is not environmentally sustainable. Moreover, some Atlantic salmon is now genetically modified, which poses a host of ethical, moral, and health-related questions.
This brings us to the main question of which fish to eat. I have a simple answer: eat SMASH fish! SMASH stands for sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon, and herring. These fish are more healthful to eat because they are small and/or from cold and generally more pristine waters. Large fish, like tuna and swordfish, that are higher on the food chain, which means that through a process called bioaccumulation, they store the heavy metals and organic pollutants, most notably mercury, from eating smaller fish. Tuna should be eaten, at most, twice per week (and not at all by children and women who are pregnant, planning on getting pregnant, or breastfeeding). Fish found in cold waters generally have a higher omega-3 content.
How often should we eat seafood? Unfortunately, in today’s world there is no such thing as a perfectly clean waterway. For this reason, I recommend eating thoughtfully selected fish no more than 3-4 times per week.
If you are a big fish eater and wonder about your accumulated toxic load, consider testing your heavy metal or organic pollutants load. Both are available through a naturopathic physician at Reboot Center, or through other environmental health clinics. Another noteworthy test is one that measures how much of the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids you have in your cells. These tests are perfect for ensuring you are meeting your goals for optimal health.
I wish you good, healthy eating!
Greenberg, Paul, 1967-. Four Fish : the Future of the Last Wild Food. New York :Penguin Press, 2010. Print.
Reboot Center for Innovative Medicine is an integrative health center located on Whidbey Island, WA.