If You Eat Fish, Here's A Simple Guide To Healthier Seafood
The Environmental Working Group published a new shopping tool and seafood calculator today to help people buy seafood lower in mercury, higher in omega-3 fatty acids and sustainably produced.
EWG’s interactive tools offer people more detailed information than is available from the federal Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, which last June urged pregnant and nursing women to increase their fish consumption to eight to 12 ounces of seafood per week and encouraged young children to eat fish twice a week.
“We can’t trust the government to keep our exposure to toxic mercury within safe limits,” said Sonya Lunder, EWG’s senior analyst. “The guidelines could lead some people to consume too much mercury, and others, too few omega-3s. Families should look to EWG’s new guide and calculator to learn how to get the most nutrition from seafood without risking their health.”
EWG’s new Seafood Calculator determines the amount of fish or shellfish that an individual can safely eat weekly based on pregnancy status and weight. It offers personalized recommendations for more than 80 species. EWG’s Good Seafood Guide gives general advice about which fish to eat, which fish to approach caution with and which to avoid.
The user-friendly format divides seafood into five categories:
EWG Best Bets:
- Wild salmon
- Rainbow trout
- Atlantic mackerel
One or two four-ounce servings a week of these fish have little mercury and optimum levels of omega-3 fatty acids for pregnant or nursing women and people with heart disease. Best Bets are also available from sustainable sources.
These species have favorable concentrations of omega-3 fats. One four-ounce serving provides at least 25 percent of the weekly recommended omega-3 consumption. A pregnant woman of average weight could eat three four-ounce servings per week without ingesting too much mercury. These species do not necessarily come from sustainable sources.
Low Mercury, But Low Omega-3s:
These varieties can be healthy sources of protein and other nutrients, but an adult would have to eat five to 20 four-ounce portions to meet the omega-3 recommendation for pregnant women and people with heart disease.
Mercury Risks Add Up:
- Canned light and albacore tuna
- Mahi mahi
- Sea bass
These fish contain too much mercury to be part of the regular diet of pregnant women and children. How much people can safely eat depends on their age, weight and health status.
- King mackerel
- Bluefin and bigeye tuna
- Orange roughy
High-mercury seafood should never be eaten by pregnant women and children, according to EWG's analysis and federal government warnings. Everyone else should eat these species infrequently or not at all.
As EWG warned earlier this year, the advisory proposed by the FDA and EPA is not adequate to assure that pregnant women and children avoid mercury contamination. Nor does it make clear that pregnant women and people with heart disease are unlikely to benefit from eating more seafood unless it is low in mercury and high in omega-3s. Eight of the 10 most commonly eaten seafood species are very low in omega-3s, underscoring the need for consumers to have information about high omega-3 species, EWG said.
“Studies document adverse health effects in children whose mothers were exposed to mercury at levels that were previously thought to be safe,” said Philippe Grandjean, a professor at Harvard School of Public Health and the University of South Denmark. Grandjean is not affiliated with the EWG report released today, but led a decades long study of mercury toxicity in the Faroe Islands that found lasting neurological damages in children who were exposed to mercury in utero.
“Mercury exposure should be minimized,” Grandjean added. “Fortunately, this does not prevent pregnant women from eating fish and shellfish, they just need to be directed to seafood that is both safe and nutritious.”
Omega-3s, such as docosahexaenoic, or DHA, and eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, have been shown to reduce inflammation. Some studies suggest that children born to mothers who ate seafood rich in omega-3s during pregnancy had better cognitive development than children born to mothers who did not eat much seafood or ate higher mercury species. Two weekly meals of high omega-3 fish and shellfish could reduce the risks of heart attack and stroke, according to federal nutrition guidelines.
EWG’s analysis of mercury and omega-3 content of seafood will be integrated into a new Food Database and mobile smartphone app due out later this fall. The user-friendly tool will house information on more 80,000 foods and 5,000 ingredients from more than 1,500 brands and aims too empower people to shop smarter and eat healthier. Each item in the database will be scored based on three factors: nutrition, ingredient concerns and degree of processing. Learn more here.