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Benefits of Fish Outweigh Dangers, But Consume with Caution

Update Date: Sep 24, 2012 04:44 PM EDT
Salmon Steaks
Researchers conclude that fish is just to good (and good for you) to cut out of our diet completely. (Photo : Flickr/ Andrea Pokrzywinski)

Recent reports warning against methyl mercury and harmful bacteria laden fish have confused the masses as to whether or not fish is in fact healthy or harmful. . But from the researchers at Umeå University in Sweden conclude that the benefits of eating fish far outweigh the consequences, stating simply, "Eat fish, but avoid fish with the most pollutants ."  

Fish has been a staple of human nutrition in many cultures, but there has been some controversy recently about the benefits and risks of fish consumption.

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For example, fish is rich in Omega 3 and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), substances that might protect against coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke as well as maintains bone and brain health.

Conversely,some fish, such as tuna, contain methyl mercury (MeHg), a compound implicated in impairment of cognitive development and IQ and can cancel out the effects of the blood pressure regulation fatty acids by in fact increasing our risk of Cardiovascular disease.

Taken together in equal doses, this creates a canceling-out effect that does absolutely nothing to the body, good or bad. 

How then can the consumer decide whether to increase or decrease consumption? What steps should governments, public health authorities and commercial fishing industries take in response to these conflicting facts? 

In order to find the answer, researchers from Switzerland, along with colleagues from from Finland and elsewhere, examined how the risk of heart attack (acute myocardial infarction) is contingent on the amount of omega-3 fats and mercury from fish that people have in their body. 

According to a report released by Umeå University, it turns out that "mercury is linked to increased risk [of CVD], and omega-3 fatty acids to decreased risk, of having a heart attack. The increased risk from mercury was noticeable only at high levels of this environmental pollutant in the body and if the level of the protective omega-3 fatty acids was concomitantly low."

Therefore researchers posit that consumers be cautious in what kinds of fish they buy and where are they from. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers three main principal recommendations when considering what is safe to consume and how much:

  1. Do not eat Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel, or Tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury.
  2. Eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.

    • Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.
    • Another commonly eaten fish, albacore ("white") tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. So, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.
  3. Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. If no advice is available, eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) per week of fish you catch from local waters, but don't consume any other fish during that week.

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