Seafood Risks and Benefits

Chinook Salmon (Illustration by Charlotte Knox)

There’s nothing like fresh-caught seafood, especially the salmon and herring my Uncle Olle caught off the coast of Sweden in the Baltic Sea… then grilled, sauteed, smoked or pickled for our enjoyment. Interestingly, seafood which has been frozen on the boat, and bought frozen by you may be more nutritious than a piece of “fresh” fish which has been sitting for days in your grocery store.

Seafood is a source of potent omega-3-fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat important for your health, particularly your heart and brain. To get these benefits, experts recommend you get at least 4 to 11 grams of omega-3-fatty acids weekly (1.1 grams/day for women, 1.6 grams/day for men). Cold water fish contain the highest levels.

It’s ideal to eat fish high in omega-3-fatty acids, yet low in mercury.

Mercury is an environmental pollutant which seeps into the earth’s waters and into our seafood. Nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury, with some containing more than others, according to the Food and Drug Administration. And with the fear of mercury poisoning from fish, many are confused about what and how much to eat.

Ironically, the most vulnerable to mercury’s hazards – children and pregnant or nursing women – have the highest need for the nutrients in seafood.

 Some guidelines:

1) DON’T eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish,

2) DO eat up to 12 ounces of a variety of seafood low in mercury:

  • Five of the most commonly eaten fish which are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish
  • Albacore tuna has more mercury than light tuna, so limit it to 6 ounces per week

3) CHECK local advisories about fish caught in local lakes, rivers and coastal areas

4) Low Mercury, High Omega-3-Fatty Acid Seafood: Salmon, Herring, Sardines, Anchovies

Learn more about Seafood’s Risks, Benefits and Endangered Species at
June 7’s Smithsonian Sustainable Seafood Dinner

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