Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Fish: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (especially for pregnant moms and little kids!)

Our homemade sushi is a weekly request from my munchkins!

We are a fish loving family.

When we are celebrating a special occasion, my 6 year old requests sushi. We all (including our 2 year old) eat fresh raw salmon sushi or ceviche or poke bowls once a week and, additionally, we eat cooked fish a second time a week. My oldest also loves taking sardines to school (I swear!) and if we go out on the weekends to a family lunch it is not strange for him to order octopus if it is on the menu.

We love fish. The key, however, is eating the right kind of fish (more on that a bit later). 

Fish can be really healthy, it is;
  • high in essential omega -3 fatty acids (for more on why healthy fatty acids are vitally important and where else to find them read our recent post "(Organic) Milk It Does The Body Good"),
  • high in protein
  • children born to mothers who ate low-mercury seafood during pregnancy experienced better functioning brain and nervous systems. They scored two to six points higher on intelligence tests than children whose mothers ate little fish during pregnancy (Oken 2005)
  • Fish can be low in fat and very yummy. 
 Fish, however,  can also harbor high levels of dangerous and toxic contaminants, especially mercury. 

It is precisely due to our love of fish that I, and you, should always pay close attention to what fish we eat, and how much, since too much of a good thing is never healthy.

What is mercury and why is it in fish?

Mercury is a neurotoxin that is harmful to the developing brains of fetuses, babies and young children. It has been found to cause lifelong deficits in learning, memory and reaction times. In the body, mercury can be harmful to the heart, kidney and other body organs.

How does mercury get into fish? Coal-fired power plants and other industrial sources give off mercury emissions which are then carried by air and deposited in oceans and waterways. Bacteria convert it to methylmercury, which accumulates in fish and which you then eat.

What fish is the best fish to eat?

That, has proven not to have a simple answer.

According to the FDA and EPA if a pregnant or nursing women limits herself to eating 8 - 12 ounces, (roughly two - three servings) of a variety of low-mercury fish each week., their levels of mercury should be considered safe. They identify lower mercury fish as salmon, shrimp, pollock, tuna (light canned), tilapia, catfish and cod and suggests avoiding tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel. The current  guidelines advise pregnant women and women who are breast-feeding to limit eating white (albacore) tuna to 6 ounces a week.

According to a new study by the Environmental Working Group, "many women who follow that advice will not have low enough levels of mercury or get enough omega-3s in their diets."

Even more interesting? They found that " the great majority of the toxin (mercury) (found in their study subjects) came from species the government does not warn against, especially tuna steaks and tuna sushi."

Ahhh yes sushi.

Lucky for us, while the government decides if they want to tweak their guidelines, the Environmental Working Group has published a Good Seafood Guide which helps consumers determine not only what the best fish to eat (highest in omega -3's and lowest in mercury) is but how much of it they should be eating.

Their Seafood Calculator is a super cool tool since, after asking you to input you (or your child's) age, gender and weight , it estimates the portion size and frequency of fish you should be eating, based on your particular specs and recommends that pregnant women and children ingest 25 percent less mercury than the current EPA guideline.

So, what is the best fish to eat and in what quantities?

Like I said, not such an easy answer. The answer depends on who you are. However, according to the Environmental Working Group, the superstar fish that you should always choose and offer to your kids because they have high levels of omega 3, have very low levels of mercury and are sustainable are:

Wild Salmon



Rainbow Trout

Atlantic Mackerel (NOT to be mistaken for King Mackerel which is on the worse choice list)

Additional Good Choices would be:




The Fish you should avoid always, especially if pregnant or nursing are:

King Mackerel


Orange Roughy




For a full personalized list go to EWG's Good Seafood Guide

Thankfully I now know that we can continue to enjoy fish at home and my kiddos can continue to enjoy and celebrate life's happy moments with their fav:  salmon sushi

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