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The Unexpected Truth About Seafood and Mercury

If you are a seafood lover, you probably heard of the risk of ingesting mercury along with your shark fillets or swordfish steaks. However, there's no reason to skip eating shellfish and fish simply because you are unsure about mercury and food. Here's the truth about mercury in seafood and how you can still dine safely on your favorite meals.

What Is Mercury?

Mercury is a naturally-occurring metal, which means you probably have already encountered it in small quantities as it's released into the air and water via volcanoes or forest fires. Unfortunately, human activity like burning coal releases mercury as well. Eventually, mercury reaches our lakes and oceans where fish absorb the mercury into their bodies.
If you eat fish and seafood with high levels of mercury, your body can absorb some of that mercury. Fortunately, most people have only low levels of mercury in their bodies, well below the amount necessary to be harmful or noticeable. Even better, mercury leaves your body naturally over a period of a few months to a year.

What Are the Benefits of Eating Seafood?

There's no reason to completely avoid eating seafood simply to evade ingesting mercury. The health benefits of eating fish far outweigh the risk of absorbing tiny amounts of mercury. Here are a few reasons to continue eating seafood:
  • Fish is high in quality protein while remaining low in saturated fats.
  • Your body needs the essential amino acids found in fish that it cannot produce.
  • Essential fatty acids like Omega-3 can be found in fish, which help combat heart disease, depression and joint pain.
  • Seafood delivers a host of vitamins and minerals such as A, B3, B12, D, calcium and iron.
To receive the most health benefits available from fish, the American Heart Association suggests you eat at least two servings of fish — especially salmon, herring or anchovy — each week.

How Can You Eat Smart?

While mercury in seafood is always a concern, it's important to know when it is necessary for you to eat smart. Pregnant and lactating women, women who may become pregnant and young children all are susceptible to experiencing the adverse health effects of mercury.
Mercury is capable of crossing the placenta and entering the bloodstream of newborn babies, causing birth defects and other problems. Also, it can be passed from mother to infant via breast milk. Mercury causes development problems in young children.  If you fall into one of these categories, simply eat smart.
Recently, the EPA and the FDA have updated their fish consumption advice by listing fish in different categories. In the Best Choices category are popular fish like salmon, shrimp, tilapia, canned light tuna, cod, catfish and crab. All of these can be eaten as often as three times per week. In the Good Choices category are Chilean sea bass, snapper, tuna and halibut. The FDA recommends eating fish in this category once a week.
Notice that smaller fish usually contain lower levels of mercury, while larger varieties have higher levels. This is because larger fish prey upon and eat smaller fish that may contain mercury, thus absorbing greater quantities of mercury overall.
Fortunately, the Best Choices category contains 90 percent of fish eaten here in the U.S. If you are pregnant, nursing or about to become pregnant, it is safe to eat certain fish up to three times each week. The same applies to young children.
If you do not fall into any of these categories, feel free to enjoy your favorite seafood, even if it may contain higher levels of mercury. Occasionally partaking of swordfish or orange roughly is not harmful and only provides you with the health benefits that fish and seafood are famous for. For more information about seafood available in your area, visit Vince's Shellfish Company.