Mercury in Seafood

QUESTION: Should I be concerned about mercury in the seafood I eat? – Paul from Budapest

ANSWER: Your main concern should be that you are not eating enough seafood. The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommends that “people eat at least two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily. Oily fish provide known health benefits for example, it contains nutrients that protect against heart disease.”

Eating seafood is good for your health – aside from the benefits of eating a wholesome, lean source of protein (as compared to say a greasy burger) it’s the effects of EPA and DHA Omega 3 long-chain fatty acids which bring about many of the benefits of seafood consumption. And it’s hard to list all the studies showing these benefits. And it’s not just fish, shellfish are just as good a source of Omega 3’s. Oysters, clams, crab and mussels all have high levels of EPA and DHA.

But there is another angle to be considered. Our move from seafood to grains has hurt human health. Grain-based foods, in addition to having high levels of carbohydrates, provide us with Omega 6 fatty acids (not as good), which compete against health-giving Omega 3’s.

Read the label – make sure any Omega 3 supplements you take are from marine derived sources. Some products touted as “high in Omega 3” come from sources like linseed. These plant-based sources provide short chained Omega 3 (ALA), which is not processed by the body as efficiently as marine-derived long chain EPA and DHA. Put simply it’s much better to get your Omega 3’s from oily fish and shellfish.

Happy cows, pigs, sheep and chickens – Farm animals see a great benefit from consumption of marine derived feeds, just like humans – and healthier cows means better beef.

But what about mercury? It is not good for you, and that is a fact. Some species of fish have been shown to hold higher levels of mercury in their flesh. The FSA recommends that children and pregnant women, or women who are thinking of conceiving in the near future not eat shark, marlin or swordfish. The US EPA suggests the same, with the addition of tilefish. Check their sites listed below for full recommendations. As far as tuna, the UK FSA states that “if you are pregnant or intending to become pregnant, you shouldn�t eat more than four medium-sized cans or two fresh tuna steaks per week.”

The big questions, though, are often overlooked: just where is the mercury coming from and why don’t we get rid of it?An estimated two-thirds of human-generated mercury comes from stationary combustion, mostly of coal; a process also known for being one of the world’s biggest producers of carbon. Perhaps it is time we focused our energies most on assuring that our energy needs are met by more Earth-friendly means.

Eat more seafood Paul!

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