Should You or Shouldn't You Eat Fish?

Posted On Monday, 19 October 2015
Should You or Shouldn't You Eat Fish?

Fish has three strikes; no, four strikes against it.

Many don't like the taste. They feel anxious about preparing it. Often thought to be a big ticket item for their food budgets, they avoid it. And, it is reported to be contaminated with the dreaded heavy metal, mercury.

Yet, fish has a huge nutrient plus side. It gives us at least five significant life-giving benefits:"major source of healthful long-chain omega-3 fats, rich in vitamin D and selenium, high in protein. Research reveals fish oil is good for your heart and blood vessels. An analysis of 20 studies involving hundreds of thousands of participants indicates that eating approximately one to two 3-ounce servings of fatty fish a week—salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, or sardines—reduces the risk of dying from heart disease by 36 percent.1"

Read that again, a whopping 36%!

And, there's more! "Eating fish once or twice a week may also reduce the risk of stroke, depression, Alzheimer's disease, and other chronic conditions."2 Plus, research shows fish supplies vital, life-giving nutrients, such as Omega 3s, for your brain.

Why aren't we all eating more fish? Fear is one big reason. Fish has been found to be contaminated. Let's take a closer look. Most of us have heard that fish contains mercury, PCBs, dioxins, pesticides and other toxins. Some fish have more than others. Swordfish and large tuna are two of the worst. Unfortunately while swimming around the oceans for a very long time they ingest toxins from these seas. And, most are caught on long lines that sit in the northern cold waters for weeks/months before being collected. We also have learned that most caged farmed fish are fed chemicals such as antioxidants used to manage them in their confined close quarters. Since salmon do not naturally produce a coral pink meat while in confinement, it is not uncommon for corralled salmon to be fed red dyes. Otherwise they would be gray. (If you saw gray salmon at the market would you buy it?)

BUT, yes, a big BUT, studies have given us good reason to eat farmed fish. Here's the rest of the story:

Avoiding fish is certainly one way to avoid mercury or PCBs. But is that the wisest choice, given the benefits of eating fish? Drs. Mozaffarian and Rimm put this in perspective in their analysis in the "Journal of the American Medical Association."1

First, reviewing data from the Environmental Protection Agency and elsewhere, they calculated that if 100,000 people ate farmed salmon twice a week for 70 years, the extra PCB intake could potentially cause 24 extra deaths from cancer—but would prevent at least 7,000 deaths from heart disease."
Don't know about you but I would err on the side of the 7000!1

Second, levels of PCBs and dioxins in fish are very low, similar to levels in meats, dairy products, and eggs.1

Third, more than 90 percent of the PCBs and dioxins in the U.S. food supply come from such non-seafood sources, including meats, dairy, eggs, and vegetables.... not fish.
So, given these limited health effects, low levels in fish, and major sources from other foods, the levels of PCBs and dioxins in fish should not influence your decision about which fish to eat (just as it does not influence your decision about whether or not to eat vegetables, meats, dairy products, or eggs, the major sources of PCBs and dioxins). One exception: if you eat local freshwater fish caught by friends or family, it makes sense to consult local advisories about the amounts of such fish you should eat.1

What should influence you, is the fact that eating fish twice a week, especially fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, can help prevent heart disease, stroke, depression, Alzheimer's disease, and other chronic conditions as noted above.

Important: anyone who is expecting must consult their physician about the wisdom of eating fish during pregnancy and breast feeding months.

Eco-Friendly Healthy Best Fish Choices (

Tuna: Yellowfin: U.S. (troll, pole), Albacore: Canada
Mackeral: Atlantic: Canada, U.S. (not King)
Sardines: All U.S. & Canadian
Sablefish/Black Cod
Salmon: Pacific: U.S. & Canada, Wild Alaskan, Canned, Wild: Canada, WA. & OR

What about the other three strikes against fish?

How to Cook:

First, buy fresh. If it smells, pass. Spread lemon juice on it to take way any "fishy" taste. Prevent drying out by lightly coating it with extra virgin olive oil before heating. When cooking a fillet serving, be careful not to overcook. Choose easy family friendly recipes.


Salmon and Oats Burger:

Crispy Fish:

Totally Terrific Tuna Casserole:

Seafood Stuffed Chicken Breasts:


Watch for sales. Rather than eat a fish fillet as a stand along option, break it into pieces and mix with whole grain or pasta dishes, salads (cold), soups, or blend it with oats/bread crumbs and seasoning for burgers. Fish tacos also make a little go a long tasty way. Canned tuna and salmon are great buys for this reason.

In summary: "Information is power, avoiding fish based on fear due to mercury content is a disservice to your health. Your body needs long chain omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and protein. Although you can find those separately in other foods, fish is an excellent way to meet all those needs in one healthy dish. It is also very versatile for cooking and can be adapted in so many different recipes in the same way we use ground beef or turkey for example. Fish tacos, salmon burgers, shrimp kabobs, crispy fish fingers are just some examples of great ways to introduce more fish into your family's weekly menu." Carolina Jantac, MS, RD, LD, Co-Host Family Food Kitchen

So... should you or shouldn't you? We say you should, twice a week!

... for the health of your family,
Ellen Briggs, Host
Family Food Kitchen,
Thursday, 11am ET

1. 1. Mozaffarian D, Rimm EB. Fish intake, contaminants, and human health: evaluating the risks and the benefits. JAMA. 2006; 296:1885-99.
2. 11. Raji CA, Erikson KI, Lopez OL, Kuller LH, Gach HM, Thompson PM, Riverol M, Becker JT. Regular fish consumption and age-related brain gray matter loss. Am J. of Prev Med. 2014; 47(4):444-51

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