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When we think of a healthy diet, we automatically think of a diet composed mainly of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish and a limited amount of unhealthy fats. Often, the area that is neglected is fish. That’s unfortunate because eating fish provides many nutritional benefits, especially for our hearts. It is an excellent source of protein, is low in saturated fat and cholesterol and contains essential nutrients and omega-3 fatty acids (a type of polyunsaturated fat which may help prevent heart disease).
Despite these wonderful benefits, many people avoid fish because they are worried that the fish that they are consuming might be contaminated with pollutants, such as mercury, dioxins and PCBs. That is a valid concern, but should you stop eating fish because of it?
Should I stop eating fish?
No, please eat your fish! According to the Mayo Clinic, the health benefits of eating fish generally outweighs the possible risks of exposure to contaminants. Research has shown that people who eat fish regularly have a lower risk of heart disease, especially when they eat fatty fish. That is because fatty fish usually have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which provide greater cardiovascular benefits. But that doesn’t mean that you should eat large amounts of just any fish.
What fish should I eat?
If you are concerned about your exposure to toxins, here are some things to consider when eating fish:
- Stay away from large fish: Shark, tilefish, swordfish and king mackerel have higher levels of mercury than smaller fish. That is because they eat smaller fish which have toxins deposited in their tissues. This leads to a greater concentration of toxins in the fish that eats them. Also, the longer life-span of larger fish gives them more time to accumulate toxins in their bodies.
- Pick saltwater fish instead of freshwater fish: As a rule of thumb, you should choose saltwater fish because salt water has lower concentrations of toxins to contaminate fish than most freshwater does.
- Eat fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids: Fish, such as salmon, herring and sardines are rich in omega-3′s and will give you more cardiovascular benefits. So, if you are going to eat fish, choose the ones that hold the most heart-healthy benefits.
- Check with state advisories: Check state advisories to determine how safe it is to consume fish caught in local lakes, rivers and coastal waters.
- Pay attention to how much you consume: The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two 3 ounce servings per week. But according to the EPA, keep your fish consumption to less than 12 ounces a week and stick to ones that are low in mercury. And if you are planning to get pregnant, are pregnant or are under 12 years of age, limit the amount of fish you consume even further due to an increased susceptibility to the effects from any toxins.
- Obtain a seafood guide: And if you are still not sure what to consume, you can get a free seafood guide provided by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. They have pocket guides for each region that are easy to carry in a wallet or purse. Plus, it will give you an idea of what to avoid and what to eat. You can get printed versions, get the information off their website, which includes a mobile version or download their iPhone app.
So, stop worrying and eat your fish. After all, it is good for you! Eating fish that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids far outweighs any of the potential risks as long as you pay attention to what fish you are consuming and how much you are eating of it.