Seafood. It’s versatile, fast-cooking, and delicious. A darling among the healthy eating crowd, favored by chefs, and promoted as an all around healthy choice. It’s rich in heart healthy Omega-3 fatty acids and is a lean source of protein.
And it is all of those things. Except when it’s not.
Decades of global industrial pollution, including contributions that are ongoing, have left our lakes, rivers, and oceans filthy with heavy metals, PCB’s, dioxins, agricultural pesticides, industrial solvents, and more.
Overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices have depleted ocean stocks of many species—this, coupled with our ever-growing appetite for seafood worldwide has launched the mega-farmed-seafood industry. According to the World Wildlife Federation, “85% of the world’s marine stocks are either fully exploited or overfished, driving accelerated growth in the farmed seafood industry.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fish Watch program puts the percentage of farmed seafood the world eats at around 50%.
While farmed seafood might seem like a great answer to overfishing and polluted waters, it’s not without it’s own set of problems, notably the heavy use of antibiotics and pesticides, traces of which are consistently found in tested seafood.
Bigger ocean fish like tuna, swordfish, shark, Chilean sea bass, and king mackerel have some of the highest levels of the known neurotoxin methyl-mercury—including the canned tuna that your kids may be eating in school!
The 2012 Mercury Policy Project report found that children who eat two medium servings of albacore, or white tuna per week could be exposed to as much as six times the dose that federal guidelines consider safe.
So does this mean you need to forgo heart healthy, omega-3 rich seafood?
Nope! It just means you must become smarter shopper and above all, “know your seafood.”
Here’s what to look for to avoid the worst, most polluted fish so you can reap all the benefits and reduce the risks of exposure to toxins:
ONE: Eat Low on the Food Chain
Bigger ocean fish that live a long time will bio-accumulate more toxins in their fat and flesh. Rather than tuna and swordfish, opt for smaller fishes like sardines, mackerel, herring, and wild Pacific salmon.
TWO: Eat Domestic
It may be shocking to learn that 90% of the seafood consumed in the United States is imported, and only 2% is regularly inspected. What’s more, international fishing and farming practices often go unchecked—it’s not uncommon to find imported shrimp from Southeast Asia to be contaminated with pesticides that were banned in this country decades ago.
THREE: Aim for Wild Caught
With some exceptions, farmed seafood—in particular farmed salmon—is something you want to skip. Farmed fish often have higher levels of pesticides than their wild counterparts. Close to 90% of all salmon sold in the US is farmed. Read your labels and ask your waiters for wild caught Pacific salmon. But keep in mind dwindling wild fish stock, so you may want to make those choices with sustainability in mind.
Here are some options for you:
- Wild caught Pacific Alaskan Salmon
- Pacific sardines
- Pink Oregon shrimp
If you decide to include seafood in your diet, follow these simple “rules of thumb” and that heart healthy seafood will still be heart healthy!
Tuna Surprise: Mercury in School Lunches
Fish Watch: U.S. Seafood Facts