The facts on what seafood you should eat is in murky water. There are so many variables, opinions, and considerations. I had hoped to be able to write just one post covering all of the issues but I’ve realize that it will take just a little time to thoroughly address every issue. So today I want to give you three considerations that I think are the most important when buying seafood. (For budget stretching tips see my post, 6 Tips for Eating Quality Seafood On a Budget).
Consideration Number One: Mercury
Most of us have probably heard about mercury and the damage it can do. It’s pretty ironic that the omega 3 fatty acids that “feed our brains” are packaged in fish that contains mercury that can then damage the brain. There are other toxins that can also accumulate in fish, but since they also are almost always found in high mercury fish, we will concentrate on mercury.
“A word of caution about wild fish, however. Mercury is an environmental pollutant known to cause brain damage. Like other metals, mercury accumulates in tissue as it moves up the food chain, which means larger, carnivorous fish contain more mercury than smaller ones. Thus the FDA advises children and pregnant women not to eat swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish. “
Real Food: What to Eat and Why Nina Planck
And I would say that anyone, pregnant or not, should be careful about their intake of mercury! But it’s especially vital that pregnant women don’t consume too much, which Nina further discussed in her second book, Real Food For Mother and Baby (check out my resource page for more information on this great book).
“This is what you need to know about fish. The metal mercury is found naturally in the environment. It can combine with carbon to form a toxin called methylmercury. Industrial pollution creates methylmercury too. Methylmercury is infamous for causing birth defects and brain damage in children. It’s no friend of fertility, either…..Methylmercury dissolves in water and accumulates up the food chain, which means it’s found in higher concentrations in older, bigger, and more carnivorous fish, and it ends up in your tissues when you eat it. If you stop consuming methylmercury, it eventually clears your body. “
Nina goes on to give the advice of eating low mercury fish, low in the food chain, but not avoiding fish altogether. Fish is important for the development of your babies brain and shouldn’t be avoided.
Sally Fallon recommends that you don’t worry too much about mercury if you have healthy intestinal flora as it blocks the absorption of mercury. I think this is a great reminder of how important it is to consume probiotic foods. But I personally still don’t eat high mercury fish, because I don’t trust that my flora is good enough right now to deal with high amounts of mercury.
Thankfully there are fish that are both low in mercury and high in nutrients. Which leads to our next consideration.
Consideration Number Two: Fish High in Nutrients (especially Omega 3’s)
The Monteray Bay Aquarium puts out well respected, frequently updated guides to buying eco-friendly seafood. They also put out a “super green” list of seafood that is low in contaminants like mercury, pesticides and industrial chemicals and high in omega 3’s. This list is as follows.
The Best of the Best
Albacore Tuna (troll- or pole-caught, from the U.S. or British Columbia)
Pacific Sardines (wild-caught)
Pink Shrimp (wild-caught, from Oregon)
Rainbow Trout (farmed)
Salmon (wild-caught, from Alaska)
Spot Prawns (wild-caught, from British Columbia)
Other Good Choices
Arctic Char (farmed)
Bay Scallops (farmed)
Crayfish (farmed, from the U.S.)
Dungeness Crab (wild-caught, from California, Oregon or Washington)
Longfin Squid (wild-caught, from the U.S. Atlantic)
Pacific Cod (longline-caught, from Alaska)
Now, do note that there is some farmed seafood on this list. That’s such an important issue that I am going to take another post to go over my findings on the subject. Also note that oysters are on the best of the best list. Not only do they contain Omega 3’s, but oysters are pretty much the single best source for zinc (so feed them to your men!).
Consideration Number Three: Environmental Damage
There are several things to consider here. First is overfishing. Farmed trout is not nutritionally superior to wild lake caught trout, it’s just that certain areas are over fished. We do need to protect our resources and overfishing is a bad idea.
Certain fish farming practices are also bad for the environment, especially farmed salmon and shrimp. To help you wade through all of the different fish choices download a regional shopping guide for a list of eco-friendly fish in your area.
In short, buy low mercury seafood that’s also high in nutrients with a soft impact on the environment. I think that these three considerations are the most important for you to consider when you buy seafood.