One Fish, Two Fish, How Much is Too Much Fish?

One Fish, Two Fish, How Much is Too Much Fish?

I’m confused about fish. I know the good fats of DHA Omega 3s make skin and hair look younger and healthier and that fish is brain food. Anyone in doubt about the latter needs to watch this clip from the BBC.

Can you believe that? The handwriting part really blows me away.

But what about mercury? How much fish can I give my kids in the name of good health and not be poisoning them? Throw the environmental issues of over fishing and it’s enough to send you to the supplement aisle and call it a day. But that won’t help since many fish oil supplements are made with mercury-laden fish – read those labels carefully!

I spoke with Carrie Brownstein, Wholefood’s resident fish expert to try to make sense of my fish dilemma. Carrie is a new Mum herself so I was so grateful to her for taking the time – thanks Carrie!

Q: There’s a lot of information out there about mercury levels, sustainability, etc, that it’s confusing to the average person. Can you suggest  fish that a parent can cook with that are safe in terms of mercury levels and do no harm in terms of the environment.

A: In terms of mercury, here is some background. It occurs naturally in the environment and can also come from industrial pollution. Through rain, snow, and runoff, mercury enters streams, rivers, and lakes and with the aid of bacteria undergoes a chemical transformation into methylmercury. Fish absorb the methylmercury as they feed and it builds up the food chain. So, the larger, longer-lived fish tend to accumulate a higher concentration of mercury. In contrast, smaller, shorter-lived species typically have less. Examples of fish that are low in mercury are salmon, haddock, herring, clams, scallops, crabs, or sardines. Fortunately, farmed fish such as tilapia, trout, shrimp, and catfish are low in mercury as well. They’re raised for a short time and if they’re fed fish, it’s usually species that are low in mercury.

In terms of eating fish to do as little harm to the environment as possible, I’d recommend asking your fishmonger about where their fish comes from and how it was processed. Whole Foods Market has the highest farmed seafood standards in the industry. Our standards prohibit the use of antibiotics, added growth hormones, preservatives such as sulfites, poultry and mammalian by-products in feed, and genetically modified or cloned seafood. Producers are required to minimize the impacts of fish farming on the environment, provide detailed information on farming practices and pass independent third-party audits. 
If you are buying wild-caught seafood, one of your best bets is to look for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) seal. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is the world’s leading authority on certifying sustainable fisheries.

Q: How much fish is it safe to feed our families? Are there limits to how much fish we can eat if the mercury levels are low?

A: Methylmercury is most harmful to the developing brains of babies in utero and young children. If you are a pregnant woman, a woman who may become pregnant, a nursing mother or a child, the FDA advises you avoid eating the species that are highest in mercury:  king mackerel, shark, swordfish, and tilefish. The FDA and EPA also advise limiting intake of both albacore tuna and tuna steaks/fillets to up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of tuna steak eaten per week. Since canned “light” tuna is processed from smaller species of tuna, it typically has lower concentrations of mercury than either canned albacore (“white”) tuna or tuna steaks/fillets. The FDA and EPA recommend that women who are or may become pregnant and nursing mothers eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) per week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. Young children should be served smaller portions. Overall, you can reduce exposure to mercury by eating a variety of fish known to have low mercury levels.

Q: What about supplements? Are some safer than others? If I give my kids fish oil supplements do I need to limit the amount of fish we eat?

A: As an alternative to eating fish, purified (often called “molecularly distilled”) fish oil supplements offer omega-3 fatty acids with lower levels of contaminants. Omega-3-enriched eggs offer another alternative source of essential fatty acids, and micro-algae based omega-3 supplements are a vegetarian alternative to fish-and egg-based forms.

Q: Anything else that a parent should know when it comes to fish?

A: Fish can be a lean, heart-healthy, and delicious protein choice for families. Check out our fish and shellfish recipes online – – we have tons of kid-friendly options that will appeal to everyone.

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  1. Natalee Caple
    June 30, 00:19 Reply

    thanks for this. Always great to have some calm information. My kids and J and I love fish! Thinking about safe eating often reminds me of a quote from Atwood's edible woman in which she says (I'm paraphrasing I don't have the book here) if you think too much about anything you start to taste the death in it.

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