Busting Mercury Myths
Would you take nutrition advice from a reality TV star? What about pregnancy tips from a boy band singer? Would you listen to a doctor who used your astrological sign to diagnose you? And yet, voices like these have put themselves at the front of a movement that produces misinformation about seafood and mercury, fueling a bona fide public health crisis.
Medical doctors like Dr. Oz, who recently took flack for that healthcare-via-the-zodiac segment, are especially concerning. Oz really ought to know better, but has unfortunately proven to be motivated more by clicks and ratings than sound science or the Hippocratic Oath.
It’s perhaps not surprising then that the latest bad advice on seafood and mercury comes from another doctor who has appeared on Dr. Oz’s show and found an audience among his followers. In a recent interview with Shape magazine, ER doctor Darria Gillespie dangerously recommending consumers limit their fish consumption to “no more than one or two servings a week.” But pregnant women need to eat more seafood than they currently do, not less. Statements like these cause expectant mothers to avoid fish all together, which can be harmful to their babies’ health. The FDA recommends that pregnant women eat at least two servings of a variety of seafood every week.
Avoiding Bad Advice
America’s daytime showman Dr. Oz made his career selling bad dietary advice to Americans. His publicity-seeking practices got so bad that in 2014 the British Medical Journal analyzed his work and concluded that more than half of his medical advice is either contradictory or lacks scientific evidence. Moreover, investigations by the New York Times and Chicago Tribune concluded that Oz provided a “chaotic bazaar of advice” and that much of Oz’s advice is at odds with the scientific community.
So Americans, and especially expectant mothers, should apply close scrutiny to advice offered by Oz or his acolytes. By helping spread misinformation to the public, these irresponsible “TV doctors” are implicating themselves in a major public health crisis.
Along with Dr. Oz and Dr. Darria, sites that may seem reliable like Medical Daily have also put out false information regarding mercury. The publication most recently listed tuna as a high mercury fish to avoid – along the lines of shark and tilefish, (which is simply false) – and quoted Consumer Reports’ debunked advice on tuna. It is important that pregnant women get the best advice for the health of their babies and ignore this type of scary click-bait.
Tuna and Mercury
Survey data shows that Americans are not eating enough seafood, causing them to miss out on important health benefits and leading to nearly 84,000 preventable deaths a year. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the USDA, and other leading authorities encourage people to eat fish because of its healthy amounts of B12 and D, iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium and beneficial omega-3s fatty acids called EPA and DHA. Tuna is an excellent and widely available option for tapping into this nutritional motherlode, high in protein and the omega-3s that play an essential role in brain and eye health.
Yet thanks in part to celebrity cranks and snake oil salesmen, many Americans believe tuna consumption should be limited over mercury fears. But the truth is that the average can of light or albacore tuna has mercury levels of 0.1 and 0.3 parts per million, substantially below the FDA’s safety level of 1.0ppm. That means that, according to the FDA’s Net Effects Report, the average person can safely eat tuna for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the week. Maybe that’s why there has never been a case of mercury toxicity from normal consumption of commercial seafood recorded in any American medical journal.
Scientists reviewed an exhaustive body of research on mercury risk compared to the beneficial nutrients in fish, and strongly concluded that “consistent evidence shows that the health benefits from consuming a variety of seafood in the amounts recommended outweigh the health risks associated with methyl mercury” (USDA/HHS Dietary Guidelines for Americans). Despite this conclusive evidence that tuna’s mercury content is not dangerous, there are still misinformed or simply false statements out there that scare people away from eating tuna.
Perhaps the most harmful myths out there have to do with tuna consumption during pregnancy. Some poorly informed lifestyle gurus and pseudo experts even tell women they shouldn’t eat any fish during pregnancy – advice that isn’t only false, but dangerous. According to the USDA, pregnant women should have at least two to three servings of seafood each week to ensure their baby’s healthy development.
Because according to the same comprehensive FDA research on the matter, women could eat 164 ounces, or 54 standard three ounce cans, of canned light tuna every week without risk to their health. A recent study by Dr. Nicholas Ralston and Dr. Laura Raymond found that because of tuna’s selenium content, eating the fish has the ability to improve brain health. They conclude that any fish containing more selenium than mercury, such as tuna, has the ability to provide “nutritional benefits for health and development” for pregnant women and their fetuses.
In another recent study, scientists in Spain followed around 2,000 mothers and their children through pregnancy and the first five years of development. They found that by eating fish every week pregnant women were actually promoting fetal brain development and reducing their children’s’ risk of developing autism. Another long-term study showed that children whose mothers had reduced their seafood intake during pregnancy had children with a significantly lower IQ than those who did not.
The bottom line is that eating a variety of seafood, especially during pregnancy, is safe and healthy.
Latest Fraudulent “Report” from Greenpeace Includes Dangerously Misleading Advice for Consumers
In what has become a shameless annual tradition, Greenpeace has released yet another report designed to mislead the public and entice gullible press outlets to hand them free fundraising publicity.
The tactic is based on a manufactured list that pretends to rank various supermarket retailers on whether Greenpeace thinks they are “fighting for healthy oceans.” But the deception is quickly obvious. The list has no empirical basis. It is entirely unverifiable, gets basic facts flat wrong, and is apparently made up out of whole cloth.
The document purports to present rankings based on objective empirical standards (right down to the decimal point), but provides almost no explanation on how scores are actually calculated – besides a weak methodology section claiming that all surveys were “consistently” scored. Their ever-morphing analysis is especially ironic considering that “transparency” is one of the criteria on which retailers are judged – a value Greenpeace appears to regard as optional for themselves.
Greenpeace moves the goal posts for their “report” each year. One year they focused on Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs), where they got the science completely wrong. Another year it was carbon emissions – even though their preferred fishing methods actually cause more pollution. After that is was labor, and this year they ended up focusing on plastic waste in the oceans. They might as well be pulling these topics randomly out of a bowl.
Perhaps worst of all, Greenpeace includes dangerous advice that urges consumers to avoid eating seafood – contrary to the explicit guidance of the FDA and all leading health organizations.
This is no small mistake. The FDA warns that most Americans are eating dangerously low amounts of seafood, a deficiency that contributes to nearly 84,000 preventable deaths each year. Another long-term study showed that children whose mothers had reduced their seafood intake during pregnancy had appreciably lower IQs.
Greenpeace explicitly encourages consumers to, “eat less seafood.” This advice couldn’t be more backwards. Check everywhere from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to your local nutritionist and everyone will tell you to eat more seafood. Tuna is listed as a particularly good option for families and is a healthy, accessible choice.
Notice also that, even as Greenpeace unscientifically and arbitrarily ranks retailers for their practices, it refuses to conduct environmental or economic impact studies of its own preferred fishery policies – no doubt since they realize the methods they favor would hurt both the environment and ordinary American consumers.
This year, Greenpeace tried to add a positive spin by claiming that they’ve made a difference in the world, simply because they called any score over 40 percent a “passing” grade. No one is falling for their pathetic attempt to claim victory. They, once again, are reusing old tactics in hopes of garnering media attention and raising funds for their next attack. Don’t be fooled.
Greenpeace is a fraud, and this new survey only proves how out-of-touch they’ve become with not just the environment, but on basic science and nutrition. Don’t fall for their plea or listen to their dangerous advice. It could be fatal.
Reader’s Digest’s Shameless Click-Bait Harms Consumers
It’s popular to use catchy, click-bait titles on the internet. Writers know it lures readers in and drives traffic. But it is irresponsible to use scary headlines that provide false information and recommendations that fly in the face of science. Reader’s Digest shamelessly does so in a recent slideshow [8 Fish You Should Never Order in a Restaurant], which MSN republished.
Fish is a healthy choice and data shows that many people don’t eat nearly enough. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans instruct Americans to eat at least 2-3 servings of seafood each week because it’s rich in important nutrients, such as vitamins B12 and D, iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium and beneficial omega-3 fatty acids called EPA and DHA.
So why does Reader’s Digest steer people away from seafood, instead of encouraging them to eat more?
By listing many of the top U.S. seafood choices – that are indeed healthy and safe – as menu items to stay away from, Reader’s Digest contributes to the very real public health crisis of low seafood intake. A Harvard study finds low seafood consumption is the second-biggest dietary contributor to premature death in the U.S., taking 84,000 lives each year. For perspective, low intake of fruits and vegetables takes 58,000 lives each year.
So broad and misguided is Reader’s Digest’s effort that it even takes aim healthy, affordable and accessible staples like canned tuna, unnecessarily segregating tuna types and confusing consumers who already don’t eat enough seafood as it is.
The reasoning behind Reader Digest’s recommendations are almost laughable. Here are a few examples:
1. Author Carina Wolff says you should never order farmed Atlantic salmon at a restaurant, claiming among many things that wild salmon has more omega-3 fatty acids than the farmed variety. She is wrong. The science is clear, both wild-caught and farmed-raised salmon are a healthy choice:
- A USDA study conducted at the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center involving farmed salmon reported that “…consuming farm-raised salmon was an excellent way to increase omega-3 fatty acids in the blood to levels that corresponded to reduced heart disease risk.”
- The USDA Nutrient Database actually lists farm-raised salmon as higher in omega-3s than wild-caught salmon. Both are significant food sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
- The scientific report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee thoroughly explored the health and safety of wild-caught and farm-raised fish. The committee, comprised of 14 highly credentialed doctors and registered dietitians, concluded that, “based on risk/benefit comparisons, either farmed or wild-caught seafood are appropriate choices to consume to meet current Dietary Guidelines for Americans for increased seafood consumption.” This is because “for the majority of commercial wild and farmed species, neither the risks of mercury nor organic pollutants outweigh the health benefits of seafood consumption, such as decreased cardiovascular disease risk and improved infant neurodevelopment.”
- In an expose about farmed salmon by 60 Minutes, Dr. Sanjay Gupta concluded, “There are people who say I only order wild salmon—I guess the question would be, why are you doing that? If you’re doing it because you think it’s better for your health, for health reasons, you’d have a hard time making that case.”
2. Ms. Wolff suggests readers avoid certain types of tuna because of pollutants like PCBS. Does she realize that all seafood (not just tuna) contributes to just 9% of PCB intake from food in the U.S? According to independent, peer-reviewed published research available in the Journal of the American Medical Association, common everyday items like butter and even chicken account for far more PCBs that seafood. “Among adults, major dietary sources of PCBs and dioxins are beef, chicken, and pork (34% of total TEQ); dairy products (30%); vegetables (22%); fish and shellfish (9%); and eggs (5%). Dietary sources are similar for children.” Would Ms. Wolff also suggest Americans avoid vegetables when they dine out at a restaurant? I don’t think so. Context in reporting matters.
3. Ms. Wolff suggests readers avoid “Vietnamese catfish.” To note, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not acknowledge “Vietnamese catfish” as an acceptable market name for pangasius, the species she is writing about. Ironically, Ms. Wolff discusses and warns consumers that pangasius can be labelled incorrectly on the menu, while she continues to call it “Vietnamese Catfish”… a blatantly incorrect label.
4. Ms. Wolff also suggests that readers avoid swordfish because it contains too much mercury. In reality, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not recommend that the general public avoid any seafood species because of mercury. There has never been a documented case of mercury toxicity from the normal consumption of commercial seafood, which includes swordfish, in any peer-reviewed medical journal in the U.S. The FDA does have advice for a small subset of the population – pregnant and breastfeeding women – to avoid a handful of species, including swordfish, but it is irresponsible and incorrect to generalize that recommendation to Americans outside of this sub-group.
The misinformation in this article goes on species after species. What’s clear is that it saw little fact-checking and an even smaller amount of nutrition science.
The bottom-line: Go eat more seafood, confident that you’re making a healthy choice. And avoid internet click-bait articles that tell you otherwise.
Eagerly Awaiting Laura Reiley’s Next Salmon Story
When Laura Reiley, the Food Critic for the Tampa Bay Times, wrote a report titled, “The facts about farmed salmon you wish you didn’t know.” We thought it prudent to reach out to her and note some facts that perhaps she didn’t know.
We noted to her editors, that she asserts, without direct attribution or quotes that, “large salmon farms also use high levels of antibiotics.” However, nowhere does she state that, per Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation, unapproved antibiotics are not permitted in fish sold in the United States. In addition, nowhere does she endeavor to explain the history of introducing effective vaccines to farmed raised salmon in order to prevent the need for antibiotics.
We also pointed out that she falls for decades old hyperbole when she incorrectly claimed that farm raised salmon is dyed red. We referred her editors to Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s expose about salmon for 60 Minutes, where he notes the carotenoids that salmon normally ingest in the wild are added to their feed when they’re farmed, giving them their pink color. Saying they are “dyed” is not accurate. When she writes, “farmers add dyes to their feed” it is simply false.
We also highlighted that her implicit endorsement of wild salmon over farmed is bolstered by a section in which she suggests the feed farm raised salmon eat contributes to an undesirable omega-3 ratio. We had to make her aware that the USDA Nutrient Database lists farmed salmon as higher in omega-3s than wild. Both are safe, healthy and delicious. However, to allow one to be maligned with misinformation is an editorial failure.
In fact, with regard to the “Omega-3 versus Omega-6” subject, it is an issue that has been researched, discussed and pondered but farmed salmon is not responsibly part of that debate. According to the USDA Nutrient Database mentioned before, 4 oz. of farmed Atlantic salmon has 2433mg EPA+DHA omega-3s and 755mg linoleic acid omega-6. While 4 oz. wild Coho salmon has 1200mg EPA+DHA omega-3’s and 63mg linoleic acid omega-6.
While there is more omega-6 fat in the USDA sample of farmed salmon, there is also more omega-3 fat. Given the average American diet, if you take a fat profile that includes either 2433mg of omega-3 or 1200mg of omega-3 to a cardiologist, or any doctor, they would turn summersaults with excitement, they would not suggest the patient consume less of either fish.
Perhaps most disturbing in her article is the complete lack of perspective provided the reader about the amount of PCB’s found in farmed salmon. Nowhere is it mentioned that Harvard University research finds seafood broadly, not just farmed salmon, makes up only 9% of the PCB’s in the average American diet, while products like vegetables make up 20%. We asked the Tampa Bay Times if they planned to run a 500-word column in which Ms. Reiley suggests Americans eat fewer vegetables to avoid the PCB’s she seems so concerned about in farmed salmon? They did not respond to that question. Even after we provided the author with independent, peer-reviewed published research available in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that shows common everyday items like butter and even chicken account for far more PCBs that seafood.
- “Among adults, major dietary sources of PCBs and dioxins are beef, chicken, and pork (34% of total TEQ); dairy products (30%); vegetables (22%); fish and shellfish (9%); and eggs (5%). Dietary sources are similar for children.”
After a thorough back and forth on the issues raised in her article Ms. Reiley thanked us for our “thoughtful response” and let us know that if she feels “an additional story is merited” She would reach out to us.
We feel an additional story is merited.
Tilapia Called “Evolutionary Rock Star”
The Public Library of Science’s DNA Science Blog features a prolife of Tilapia from a PhD whose dad was a seafood wholesaler at the Fulton Fish market when she was a kid. Amid the torrent of hyperbole and downright misinformation about the fish this geneticist finds tilapia is actually an “evolutionary rock star.”
Her research leads her to write, “I can’t help but appreciate the elegant boneless and skinless white fish descended from the famed lakes of Africa.”
Pushing back against writers whose tilapia profiles are so often “panic pieces” she ultimately concludes, “I love tilapia, because it’s nutritious and has turned around my childhood fish aversion.”
It’s worth a read.
Dr. Oz Continues to Sell Snake Oil
Every day, ordinary Americans trust qualified doctors and nutritionists to give them good health and diet advice. Unfortunately, one of America’s most infamous TV doctors abuses that trust. For years, daytime television’s Dr. Oz has used his medical credentials to sell snake oil and bad dietary advice to the American public. Recently, he turned his attention to canned tuna. As always, Oz’s recommendations are a prescription for poor health.
We’re going to debunk these claims again, even though many consumers already knew not to buy into his often-inaccurate advice. As many have pointed out, Dr. Oz has put showmanship ahead of sound medical advice for nearly a decade. The British Medical Journal even analyzed his work back in 2014 and determined that more than half of his medical advice lacks proof or contradicts the best advice. But more on that later.
In a show featuring America’s Test Kitchen host Judie Collin Davidson, Oz repeats long discredited mercury myths about limiting their seafood consumption. This sort of fear mongering may keep television audiences on the edge of their seat, but there’s no scientific evidence to support Oz’s concern. His audience might be surprised to find out that there’s never been a case of mercury poisoning from the normal consumption of commercial seafood recorded in any American Medical Journal.
The truth is, canned tuna is perfectly safe and especially nutritious. Despite Dr. Oz’s baseless scare-tactics, consumer mercury content standards are already extremely rigorous. His recommendation to limit tuna consumption to 12 ounces of light tuna or 4 ounces of white tuna per week is simply not based in facts. Specifically, the FDA’s recommended limit for mercury in seafood has a ten-fold safety-factor built in. To put this in the proper perspective, the FDA’s Net Effects report, which is based on 100 peer-reviewed studies, found that a pregnant woman – let alone your average consumer – could eat tuna for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, every day of the week, without worry.
Dr. Oz’s preference for selling his audience snake oil isn’t just wrong, it may be hazardous to their health. The FDA warns that most Americans are eating dangerously low amounts of seafood. To combat this trend, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, urge consumers to eat more fish and recommend tuna as a healthy option. The USDA also recommends that Americans eat at least 2-3 servings of seafood per week. That’s because seafood is rich in important nutrients, such as a vitamins B12 and D, iron, and beneficial omega-3s called EPA and DHA. These nutrients play a key part in heart and brain health.
Despite a wealth of scientific evidence attesting to the health benefits of canned tuna, Dr. Oz seems intent on spreading old wives’ tales. An April 2010 profile in the New York Times Magazine observed that the pressures of producing a daily television show had led Dr. Oz to dispense “a chaotic bazaar of advice, not all of it equally reliable and important.” Another article that appeared that same month in the Chicago Tribune concluded that Oz’s ventures also offer advice that’s at odds with the scientific community.
Over the years, we’ve made multiple efforts to contact him and set the record straight, and he’s ignored our efforts to demand he tell the truth about seafood. It appears that nothing- not even a formal rebuke from Congress– can stop him from giving bad advice to the American public. If Dr. Oz won’t tell the truth to American consumers, we will. It is long past time this snake oil salesman was held accountable.
“Safe Catch” tuna is here to save you… from what?
The Safe Catch tuna brand has stoked unwarranted consumer fear for years by pitching their product as containing “the lowest mercury of any brand.” The implication, without any scientific basis, is that other brands somehow represent a genuine health risk, and that this risk justifies charging families on a budget triple the price, or more, for “safe catch” canned tuna.
Indeed, the company’s very existence hinges on promoting the dangerous idea that Americans consuming a few cans of tuna a week might be at risk of mercury poisoning. Safe Catch tuna founder Sean Wittenberg claims that his own mother was poisoned by doing just that. But he presents zero evidence of any kind to support this claim. In fact, there has never been a case of mercury toxicity from the normal consumption of commercial seafood recorded in any American medical journal.
Consumer mercury content standards are already extremely rigorous. Specifically, the FDA’s recommended limit for mercury in seafood has a ten-fold safety-factor built in. The FDA’s Net Effects report, which is based on 100 peer-reviewed studies, found that even a pregnant woman could eat tuna for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, every day of the week, without worry.
How does your average can of tuna stack up by the numbers? Well, the FDA recommends eating fish that has less than 1.0 parts per million (ppm) mercury. Canned light tuna has 0.128 ppm and canned white tuna has 0.35 ppm, both far below the FDA’s threshold and any levels associated with harm.
The truth is, Safe Catch’s business model offers a solution in search of a problem. While TechCrunch is reporting that Safe Catch Tuna is “on a mission to eradicate the risk of mercury poisoning from your fish,” they are actually contributing to a nationwide public health crisis. The nutritional and medical communities all agree that Americans desperately need to eat more fish to improve cognitive function and reduce preventable cardiac deaths. Companies like Safe Catch, which exploit mercury myths in a cynical bid to improve their competitive position, will only lead to Americans eating less fish, overall, as they worry unduly about mercury exposure.
This raises serious questions about Safe Catch’s motives. The scientific consensus on mercury and seafood consumption isn’t kept under lock and key. All of this information is available via a quick Google search. So, is Safe Catch unaware of this data, or are they just accidently misleading consumers to make a buck? Neither scenario should give consumers much comfort.
Can Pregnant Women Eat Fish? Your Guide to Eating Fish During Pregnancy
While the questions used to be: Can pregnant women eat fish or can pregnant women eat seafood…
The questions are now: Am I eating enough fish during pregnancy? What are the healthiest fish to eat? The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans say to eat a variety of cooked seafood 2-3 times each week during pregnancy, but the average pregnant woman in the U.S. eats less than half a serving. It’s important for moms-to-be to eat more seafood because the need for nutrients in fish is especially high during pregnancy. So, can pregnant women eat fish you ask? Short answer: yes.
Benefits of Eating Fish During Pregnancy
Fish contain the following nutrients that are especially important for moms-to-be:
Omega-3 DHA (“Omega-3’s”)
The omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is a special kind of healthy fat that helps build your baby’s brain and eyes. During the last trimester, a fetus’s brain and nervous system rapidly develops, requiring about 65 mg/day of DHA. The heightened demand for DHA continues to two years of age. Omega-3 DHA also nourishes moms’ brain health and may prevent depression during and after pregnancy.
The most widely available dietary source of omega-3 DHA is fish. Fish like salmon, canned or pouch tuna, sardines, trout, and anchovies are rich in omega-3 DHA. Fortified foods like DHA eggs are another dietary source.
Protein is needed to build a baby’s skin, muscle, hair, and bones. Moms-to-be need about 25 extra grams of protein every day to support their growing baby.
Fish and shellfish, eggs, beans, peanut butter, and dairy like cottage cheese are all good sources of protein.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb nutrients like calcium, which builds a baby’s bones, teeth, heart, nerves, and muscles as well as keeps moms’ bones and teeth strong. Vitamin D may also help lower the chance of getting high blood pressure during pregnancy.
Fish like salmon, shrimp, and canned or pouch tuna contain vitamin D. Fortified food sources include milk and orange juice.
Iron helps carry oxygen from a woman’s bloodstream to her baby. Iron also helps keep moms’ immunity strong. Most moms-to-be begin their pregnancies without enough iron in their diets.
Many people think of meats like turkey, beef, and chicken as top sources of iron. However, seafood like clams, halibut, crab, shrimp, and cooked oysters are also iron-rich. Vegetarian sources include red and kidney beans.
Best Fish to Eat During Pregnancy
Confusing “top fish to eat” lists abound, but fish advice for moms-to-be is a lot simpler than a Google search may make it seem. Popular types like catfish, clams, cod, crab, pollock, salmon, scallops, shrimp, tilapia, trout, and canned tuna are all not only safe fish, but healthy fish to eat during pregnancy. Just like it’s best to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, the recommendation is to eat a variety of seafood to get the full range of nutrients found in different types of fish and shellfish. Most moms-to-be should simply eat a variety of the types of seafood they like – just more often. Stop asking can pregnant women eat fish; instead enjoy.
All types of seafood – frozen, fresh, and canned – count. It’s easy to forget that fish is found in three places in the grocery store. Of course, the seafood counter, but also the canned goods aisle and the freezer section. It doesn’t matter which one women choose – all contain the nutrients, like omega-3s, that make seafood such a smart choice. Stock the kitchen with a variety of seafood options so there is a go-to no matter what sounds good.
Canned tuna is one of the most affordable, available forms of omega-3s in the American diet. There are two primary types of canned tuna, white (also known as albacore) and light. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding can eat all types of tuna, including white (albacore) and light canned tuna as part of a variety of 2-3 servings of seafood each week.
Crab is a great choice for moms-to-be because it has a mild, sweet flavor and is rich in omega-3s. Consider adding crab or tuna to dishes you already love like macaroni and cheese.
Fish to Avoid During Pregnancy
There are only a handful of fish high in mercury to avoid, and the easy part is that most Americans rarely eat these fish anyway – shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, marlin, orange roughy, and bigeye tuna (found in sushi).
Essentially all seafood includes traces of mercury in addition to beneficial nutrients like omega-3s. Scientists have closely studied the health effects on children when their moms eat fish during pregnancy. They repeatedly conclude that eating seafood 2-3 times each week during pregnancy boosts babies’ brain development. The World Health Organization points out that avoiding seafood may actually mean missing out on the best possible brain development for babies.
Can Pregnant Women Eat Sushi?
To reduce the chance of getting sick from food, women shouldn’t eat any raw meats during pregnancy. Sushi is tasty, nutritious and fun; just make sure to stick with cooked types during pregnancy. There are many types of cooked sushi—just look for the “cooked” sticker when shopping in the grocery store or ask the server when dining out.
Can Breastfeeding Women Eat Fish?
Pregnant women who are already in the groove of eating seafood should keep it up after the baby arrives. Seafood fills breastmilk with omega-3s to nourish babies’ rapidly growing brains. Fish is also fast and fits well into busy new moms’ lives. Fish-loving parents set a positive example for their little one, who will be eating solid foods in just 4-6 months.
What are some Healthy Fish Recipes?
Whether you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, it may make sense to eat several mini-meals instead of a big meal. Consider thinking of seafood as an add-on to mini meals and snacks morning, noon, and night. Combine canned tuna, a hard-boiled egg, and cheddar cheese for a mid-morning meal. Top tilapia with mango salsa and wrap in a corn tortilla for lunch. Mix canned salmon with olive spread and eat with a couple slices of a French baguette for a snack. Toss pasta with sundried tomatoes and shrimp for a quick dinner. Visit Dish on Fish for more ways to get at least two seafood meals each week.
Author’s Note: We used the words “seafood” and “fish” interchangeably.
‘Eat This, Not That’ knows nothing about the healthiest fish to eat
Laughably, Eat This, Not That touts itself as “the definitive resource for smart nutrition,” among other claims. A quick glance at its website and you’ll realize this is not just an overstatement, it’s a joke.
NFI has addressed Eat This, Not That several times for fish falsities, yet the click bait engine continues unabashed. When did “smart nutrition” take into consideration clicks and ad-money over research and sound science?
This week’s occurrence of an Eat This error lists salmon, tilapia, and canned tuna as some of the “Unhealthiest Proteins on the Planet.” No one who’s ever been within a mile of published, peer-reviewed nutrition science could even read that allegation with a straight face.
All salmon are the healthiest fish to eat
To begin, Eat This reports that salmon is healthy only if it’s wild-caught. Is wild salmon healthy? You bet it is. But here are some real nutrition authorities that beg to differ with the suggestion that you avoid farmed salmon:
- A USDA study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics “… showed that consuming farm-raised salmon was an excellent way to increase omega-3 fatty acids in the blood to levels that corresponded to reduced heart disease risk.”
- Dr. Sanjay Gupta participated in a 6 month expose about salmon for 60 Minutes, where he concluded there is no health difference between farmed and wild salmon. He noted the carotenoids that salmon normally ingest in the wild are added to their feed when they’re farmed, giving them their pink color. Saying they are “dyed” pink is not accurate.
To add to the irony of Eat This’ belief that they are a legitimate nutrition resource, they attribute their claims about salmon not to a published paper, a government study, or a scientist… but instead to hyperlinks that take you back to their own misinformation. How’s that for credible sourcing?
Eat This turns to tilapia, alleging all kinds of disaster based on, you guessed it, their own articles chock-full of hyperbole. Why educate consumers about real nutrition backed by science, when you can shamelessly self-promote your own clickbait?
Lastly, Eat This states that albacore tuna can have almost triple the levels of mercury of other tuna species. Shockingly, they get close to reporting a real fact, but forget to include the rest of the context around it. According to the FDA, albacore tuna has 0.3ppm of mercury and light canned tuna has 0.1ppm of mercury. The FDA’s limit for mercury in seafood is 1.0ppm, with a ten-fold safety-factor built in. Meaning the real upper limit is 10.0ppm. To further canned tuna’s mercury content in perspective, if the FDA’s limit was a 55mph speed limit, albacore tuna is driving at 1.65 miles per hour and light canned tuna is driving at little more than half a mile per hour. Clearly, both are not even close to levels of concern and the FDA recommends eating both, even for pregnant women.
Setting the record straight
Fish contain high quality protein, copious vitamins and minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, are low in saturated fat and are associated with an array of health benefits, including a lower risk of depression, heart disease, and memory loss. Real nutrition authorities consider seafood among the healthiest foods on the planet, and encourage Americans to eat it more often.
Eat This wrongly suggests that nutritious, affordable, and accessible seafood sources like canned tuna, tilapia and farmed salmon should be avoided… when in reality they’re among the healthiest fish to eat. This isn’t an inconsequential error. Unnecessarily scaring consumers away from seafood contributes to an ongoing public health crisis that contributes to 84,000 preventable deaths each year according to Harvard University research. Keep in mind, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, recommends Americans eat at least 2 servings of seafood per week. Additionally, the American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice per a week. Unfortunately, research shows only 1 in 10 Americans meet the recommendation of eating seafood at least twice per week.
Real experts and authorities in the nutrition and public health space encourage Americans to eat more seafood, and educate consumers about the healthiest fish to eat. “Smart nutrition” is listening to the them, not that.
What is the Healthiest Fish to Eat? Spoiler Alert: Yes
Healthiest Fish to Eat
You probably aren’t getting enough of the healthiest fish. From boosting heart health and baby brain development to reducing the risk of heart disease and depression, eating just about any seafood at least 2 to 3 times each week has scientifically-proven health benefits. The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that everyone—including pregnant and breastfeeding women—should increase the amount of seafood they eat to 2 to 3 servings each week for heart and brain healthy benefits.
At a time when people are told to limit many foods, seafood is among a handful of “yes” foods that Americans are encouraged to eat more of for optimal health. Yet despite seafood being a winning food, Americans just don’t eat enough. Most Americans, on average, eat about one serving of seafood every week, which means most people need to (at least) double the amount of fish and shellfish they eat to meet the recommended 2 to 3 servings each week. And, children are eating too little, as well. Consumer survey data shows 91 percent of parents with children 12 years and younger say their children aren’t eating seafood twice a week.
Why It’s Important to Eat The Healthiest Fish
Seafood, which includes both fish and shellfish, tends to be low in calories and saturated fat, particularly when compared to other protein sources. Seafood is also rich in important nutrients, such as a vitamins B12 and D, iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium and beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the number one cause of death in men and women in the U.S., with risk factors including diabetes, high blood cholesterol and being overweight. The good news is that eating more of the healthiest fish improves health and helps to lower these risk factors. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating at least two servings of seafood each week to reduce the risk of heart disease. In fact, low consumption of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish is the second biggest dietary contributor to preventable deaths in the U.S., taking a total of 84,000 lives each year. And, eating seafood just twice a week can reduce the risk of fatal heart attacks by 36 percent! Eating seafood provides the essential nutrients that can help protect against heart attacks, decrease blood triglyceride levels and increase HDL (good) cholesterol.
Not only does a seafood-rich diet boost heart health in expectant moms, but eating seafood 2 to 3 times every week during pregnancy can help reduce post-partum depression. Research shows that women who eat no seafood during pregnancy are twice as likely to experience depression as those who eat seafood two times a week.
And, the benefits from eating adequate amounts of seafood don’t stop with mom. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids from seafood like salmon and tuna are essential for optimal baby brain and eye development. A recent study found that moms-to-be who ate fish 2 to 3 times each week during pregnancy had babies who reached milestones—such as imitating sounds, recognizing family members and drinking from a cup—more quickly than those whose mothers didn’t eat seafood regularly. Additionally, the omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA and EPA, found in seafood—like tuna and salmon—make up a major part of the brain and retina. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding moms eat at least 2 to 3 servings (or 8 to 12 ounces) of a variety of seafood each week to help baby’s eyes and brain develop properly.
How Much Seafood Do Americans Eat
According to recent USDA data, Americans ate about 14.5 pounds of seafood on average in 2014, which is down from 16.5 pounds in 2006. While this may sound like a lot, it averages out to less than 3.5 ounces per week, which is less than half of the recommended 8 to 12 ounces each week.
There are several reasons why most Americans eat less than the recommended amounts of seafood. The USDA survey suggests that a lack of awareness about the health benefits of seafood and lack of confidence in cooking seafood may be two factors. Additionally, other evidence suggests that the average American may not perceive themselves at-risk for health conditions stemming from an omega-3 deficiency and, therefore, are not making necessary changes to their diet. In addition, many Americans are misinformed about the safety of eating various types of fish and express a lack of confident in selecting or preparing seafood.
Choosing the Healthiest Fish
Even though most Americans currently eat too little seafood, the good news is that choosing which seafood is healthiest to eat is easy. All commercially-sold seafood—meaning the fish and shellfish sold in restaurants in supermarkets—is safe to eat. While the Dietary Guidelines recommends eating a variety of seafood, the top five consumed seafood—shrimp, salmon, canned tuna, tilapia and Alaskan pollock—comprise nearly three-quarters of all seafood eaten in 2014, according to the USDA.
And for pregnant and breastfeeding women, there are only a few fish they need to avoid, such as king mackerel, shark, swordfish, tilefish, orange roughy, marlin and bigeye tuna (found in sushi). Otherwise, all other commercially-sold seafood can—and should—be enjoyed by expectant and breastfeeding mothers.
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