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Global Network

For Immediate Release: August 13, 2009

NN: Seafood Choices for Your Health and a Healthy World

Nutrition Notes
Week of September 21, 2009
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

Seafood Choices for Your Health and a Healthy World

Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Americans need to eat more seafood and less red meat, but are there affordable choices good for both our health and the environment? We consumed six times more red meat than seafood in 2007, a pattern that increases risk of colon cancer and adds to environment-damaging greenhouse gases.

Fish is naturally low in saturated fat, and some is also high in omega-3 fat, which lowers risk of stroke and heart attack and reduces inflammation throughout the body. Unfortunately, some fish come with toxins accumulated in polluted waters and certain fishing methods are environmentally destructive. Knowing how to choose fish that is both eco-friendly and health promoting creates a win-win situation.

Seafood that’s Win-Win

One example of a win-win fish is wild salmon, high in omega-3 fat, low in contaminants and it comes from well managed fisheries. However, world supply would be decimated if everybody chose this for our recommended two servings a week.

For other win-win options, try Atlantic mackerel, sablefish (also called “black cod”), Arctic char, sardines and farmed rainbow trout. Barramundi, farmed striped bass and mussels are great options with slightly less, but still substantial, omega 3s. Canned wild salmon also offers health benefits in a convenient, affordable form.

Pacific halibut, Alaskan pollock and U.S. farmed catfish and tilapia aren’t high in omega-3 fat, but offer low saturated fat and contaminants, high nutrients and eco-friendly impact. Look for U.S. farmed or wild shrimp, which are more eco-friendly than shrimp from less-regulated countries. Clams, oysters and bay scallops are eco-safe and low-contaminant shellfish.

Choices healthy for you

Skipping the breaded, battered and fried seafood options, laden with trans and saturated fats and extra calories is the first step in making a healthy choice. Don’t select only those high in omega-3 fat, but including them regularly adds an extra benefit. Making health-wise choices also means limiting exposure to toxins such as methylmercury, PCBs and dioxins that can accumulate in fish from polluted waters.

  • Women of childbearing age and children up to age 12 should avoid swordfish, shark, tile fish and king mackerel due to greatest mercury contamination. These groups should choose up to 12 ounces per week (somewhat less for those under 6) of a variety of other seafood.
  • Before cooking, remove the skin and fat where PCBs concentrate. Serve less fried fish because frying seals in pollutants that might be in the fat, while cooking on a rack or grill allows fat to drain.
  • Try smaller fish like sardines and seafood such as U.S. farmed mussels.

For most of us, as long as appropriate amounts of a variety of seafood are selected to minimize risk from exposure to a single source, the health benefits of eating seafood several times a week seem to outweigh the possible risks.

Eco-friendly choices

When purchasing fish, ask the grocer how the fish was harvested. Wild fish caught by hook and line or trap are environmentally best. Environmentalists say that fish caught by trawl net, dragging or longline can damage coral or ocean floor. These methods also lead to “by-catch” of small fish, dolphins and sea turtles, which are then tossed back dead or dying.

Farmed fish can be a smart option when they're raised in closed systems where wastes are controlled and there is little chance of the fish escaping. Farmed seafood and fish outside of the U.S. is often not closely regulated, so fish can escape and threaten native species with disease or competition for food. Also, water and waste may not be treated before being discharged to the surrounding habitat. With the exception of farmed salmon, U.S. farmed fish is generally a good choice.

Want more information?

For more details on seafood options and ideas for preparing those that are new to you, check the Monterey Bay Aquariumexternal site and the New England Aquariumexternal site websites.


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