A Victory for Sanity and the American Public

Like clowns out of a VW Bug, a ridiculous parade of celebrities, quack TV doctors, and fringe environmental activists have been insisting for years that eating seafood is dangerous.Peoples brains and bodies are being damaged by mercury, so the story goes, although not a single case of mercury toxicity from the normal consumption of commercial seafood has ever been documented in any peer-reviewed U.S. medical journal.

But obstacles like facts and science havent stopped environmental groups, celebrities or TV docs including Kim Kardashian, Jeremy Piven, Dr. Mehmet Oz, and Megan Fox from sounding their anxiety that American lives are in danger from the tuna fish sandwich.

As if to say enough is enough, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a thorough, definitive and public rebuke of these alarmists in March after Got Mercury?, Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the FDA for more stringent regulations on commercial fish. In 40 instances, the FDA cited the petitions insufficient evidence or deemed the activists assertions inaccurate or inconclusive. In the FDAs words:

  • You present no evidence that mercury levels in ocean fish are rising or will rise as a consequence of increasing mercury in the ocean
  • Your petition failed to provide sufficient data or information, such as specifics relating to actual injuries within the general population or estimates of risk
  • The petition does not identify any case studies of possible individual injuries from prenatal exposure to methylmercury in the U.S., nor are we aware of any
  • In your petition, you devote considerable attention to canned tunaThe FAO/WHO assessment estimates that these products are beneficial — and thus pose no reasonable possibility of injury through at least 24.5 ounces per week.

In other words, agenda-driven activists have no basis for scaring the public about seafood.

Such sanity is needed now more than ever. As the FDAs letter underscores, Americans dont eat nearly enough fish.The North American diet now contains the second-lowest percentage of fish in the world 7 percent second only to the Sudan.

The harm caused by seafood deficiency and a lack of omega-3s are as serious as a heart attack.Literally. A recent Harvard study found that some 84,000 lives could be saved every year if Americans ate more fish.Other studies have also shown that eating seafood protects adults from developing Alzheimers disease and diabetes and encourages optimal cognitive and ocular development in babies.

Thats why it was so critical that the FDA soundly rejected the activists petition. The FDA stood up for science and stood tall against hyperbole.

Yes, reason won the day. And all Americans are better off because of it.

New Microsite Exposes Faces Behind Public Health Harm Caused by Mercury Activism

Disgusted with environmental and eco-lifestyle activists scaring you with phony warnings about mercury in seafood? So are we.

Thats why the National Fisheries Institute launched a new platform The Truth About Fish and Mercury on About Seafood. It is a space dedicated to distinguishing the willful deception of environmental and lifestyle activists who ignore research about seafoods health benefits despite extensive independent scientific documentation.

The heart of the Truth About Fish and Mercury microsite is the Tackle Box blog where well expose the bankrupt statements and baseless warnings of misguided activists like Dr. Oz, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Mercury Policy Project (MPP) to name a few and do it in real-time . Well also call out celebrities who make bogus health claims instead taking advantage of their unique position to educate their fans. And, as always, well challenge reporters both on the Tackle Box blog and in our media blog who collude with activists or lazily pass on information to the public without fact-checking it.

The science about the importance of eating seafood is too powerful to ignore, which is why were exposing these zealots for their rhetoric and cheap publicity stunts. So please check out our new site and add the Tackle Box blog to your list of frequent reads.

And of course, keep coming back to the Media Blog where NFI documents the offenses of often lazy or sympathetic journalists who are quick to cut and paste rather than try and separate rhetoric from science-based reality. We still have our work cut out for us over here.

Taking on Mercury Activism

Scan the websites of deep-pocketed environmental groups and youll see dire warnings and ominous watch lists warning consumers about seafood. Comb through your favorite health and fitness magazines and youll see cautionary advice about canned tuna. Watch the news and youll see scary tales of rising mercury levels in the ocean due to coal pollution.

But all of those warnings about danger and risk-based reporting are utterly at odds with what the leading medical institutions and government authorities have firmly established: Fish is safe, and Americans should be eating plenty more of it.

Thats why were launching Reality Check: the Real Story About Fish and Mercury and this blog, Tackle Box. Here well correct the latest false claims about mercury in seafood, expose the collusion between activists and journalists, and hold the media accountable for failing to fact-check and clearly communicate scientific research.

Experts have long known that its tough to get Americans to eat healthier. And its nearly impossible when activists spread distorted, alarmist and inaccurate information even though it jeopardizes peoples health by causing them to eat less of or eliminate one of the healthiest foods on the planet.

People tend to be more frightened by the threat of a harm than encouraged by the promise of a benefit, said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian of the Harvard School of Public Health, People get confused; they get the wrong message.

Were here to change that. Come back to our blog for the latest updates.

Confusing, Contradictory Sensation-Seeking. Yup, thats Rodale

Rodale, publisher of Prevention, Mens Health and Womens Health, wants to make it simple for readers:

The news can be confusing and contradictory. … We take the confusion out of understanding your health [and] your environment. And we add a level of common sense and moderation that has been sadly lacking in the current sensation-seeking news landscape.

Yes, health news certainly can be confusing and contradictory when it comes from Rodale. Its seafood articles (here, here and here) are sensationalized, deceptive and sometimes downright wrong. Inflammatory headlines (The Biggest Problem with U.S. Fish) and misleading photos and captions (A moment on your plate a lifetime of insulin shots?) further contribute to Rodales faulty reporting.

It appears editors Emily Main and Leah Zerbe have let their green agendas trump their journalistic duties to convey factual, objective information. Worse, they have refused to correct their errors when we pointed them out. Here are some jaw-dropping examples:

  • Tuna poses a mercury threat.
  • Its a lose-lose when you put orange roughy on your plate. Its one of the most mercury-packed fish on the market.
  • You want to limit lobster meals to fewer than six a month.
  • Mercury is building up in some of Americas favorite seafood dishes as ocean pollution reaches unprecedented levels.
  • “Freshwater fish make up about half of the fish eaten in the U.S. each year.”
  • Mercury contamination can lead to lowered IQ in children, but its also bad for adults.
  • “Choosing sustainably caught, contaminant-free fish could help you stave off diabetes, according to a new study in the journal Diabetes Care.”

Clearly, Rodale prefers scaremongering (to attract more readers, undoubtedly) to educating. Which is why well clarify its bungled seafood advice with the facts:

Tuna is safe. The FDA maintains that canned tuna is beneficial and thus pose[s] no reasonable possibility of injury through at least 24.5 ounces per week. It is also notable for the net effects it produces relative to other fish.

All commercial fish, including tuna, contain mercury in at least trace amounts. The vast majority of the methylmercury found in commercial seafood is organic and caused by underwater volcanic activity; it has been this way for millennia. Still, to ensure that American families do not need to be concerned, the FDA enforces a mercury limit of 1.0 parts per million (ppm), which includes a built-in safety factor of 1,000 percent. Canned light tuna, which contains 0.13 ppm, and canned albacore tuna, which contains 0.35 ppm, are on the FDAs list of fish and shellfish low in mercury.

Mercury levels in fish have remained unchanged over the years. According to the FDA, there are no measurable differences over time in mercury concentrations in commercial fish generally, nor does the FDA database on mercury concentrations in commercial fish reveal a trend toward increasing concentrations. In fact, levels of mercury in commercial seafood are just as they were nearly 100 years ago. As expected, there has also been no change in exposures to organic mercury, e.g., methylmercury in pregnant women over a period of time.

The vast majority of wild-caught commercial seafood comes from the ocean. When activist groups raise concerns about fish safety, theyre referring to fish recreationally caught in local rivers and streams which make up less than one percent of the fish and seafood that Americans consume annually not the commercial ocean fish you order in restaurants and buy at supermarkets. More than 86 percent of the seafood we eat in the U.S. is imported. The seafood that does come from America is primarily from the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska, and New Englandfisheries that are not primarily fresh water.

Experts recommend that Americans eat more seafood, not less. The USDAs 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) urge the general population to increase the amount and variety of seafood consumed by choosing seafood in place of some meat and poultry.

Fish is essential for babies, children, pregnant women and adults. The omega-3s, selenium and vitamins in fish protect against heart disease, dementia and premature death in adults and boost babies eye development and lead to more favorable child development, including higher IQs. Conclusive evidence even shows that not eating enough fish can cause dangerous health consequences.

Eating seafood could save your life. Fish will protect your heart. Researchers at Harvard University found that some 84,000 cardiac-related deaths could be prevented each year with proper servings of fish in the diet. The American Heart Association has also demonstrated that eating two servings of fish a week contributed to a 36 percent reduction in deaths from a sudden heart attack. And a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine proved that a reduced incidence of major cardiovascular events would occur if people followed a Mediterranean diet, which includes fish loaded with omega-3 fatty acids.

The new study in Diabetes Care is by no means conclusive. But it did find that that the potential adverse effect of mercury exposure, presumably derived from diet, may be attenuated by other nutrients, in particular [omega-3s] and magnesium. Other evidence points to less risk of diabetes with greater fish consumption.

If you really want to make it simple, heres some sound advice: Eat more fish.

And if you want to add a level of common sense? Avoid Rodales articles.

Wellness Magazines… That Worsen Your Health?

People who buy magazines for tips and information on healthy living are looking for simple, clear, reliable advice to improve their health and wellbeing. Whether theyre reading nutrition tips or lifestyle how-tos, they expect the content to be accurate and current.

So its baffling that many of these publications dont correctly communicate factual information on seafood considered a superfood by the experts especially considering that U.S. government guidelines and scientific research are easily accessible online. Unfortunately, their incorrectly caveated advice and baseless warnings may actually cause their readers to suffer from dangerous health consequences.

Consider some recent examples:

  • Psychology Today: Nutrition Part One: Avoiding Harmful Foods. The author advises everyone to avoid seafood high in mercury, like tuna, marlin, swordfish, and shark. But according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the general population can enjoy all varieties of fish without any restrictions. For pregnant and breastfeeding women and children it is suggested that they restrict their intake of four exotic and rarely eaten fish: tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel. As for eating canned tuna, there are no restrictions for the general population and even pregnant and breastfeeding women as well as children can eat 6 ounces of canned albacore tuna or 12 ounces of light tuna weekly
  • Better Homes and Gardens: 6 of the Healthiest Fish to Eat (And 6 to Avoid). The piece frequently references Monterey Bay Aquariums Seafood Watch program, even though the organization is not nutrition- or health-based but solely conservation-focused. Seafood Watchs recommendations are quite restrictive, and if people actually followed them, much of what Americans eat would be off limits. This is problematic because they are already entirely too deficient in seafood. Research from Tulane University and Harvard Medical School shows caveated guidance like that of Seafood Watch is difficult for consumers to follow which results in reduced fish consumption.

Clearly, these kinds of articles arent harmless. Peer-reviewed research shows that risk-centric messaging … result[s] in an overall reduction in the potential health benefits derived from [omega-3] EPA + DHA.As noted by the World Health Organization (WHO)/Food Agriculture Organization (FAO): The real concern about fish is that people arent eating enough of it.

But its not impossible to write accurately about seafood. A Washington Post article, Eat more fish; risks overstated, emphasized that eating seafood was a healthy choice for families despite the presence of naturally occurring mercury in all seafood and exposed eNGOs for not ignoring seafoods essential nutrients in their fear-based, risk messages. . Parade magazine also reported the latest science, noting, omega-3s (in fish) may lower triglyceride levels by as much as 35 percent and that your best bet for DHA and EPA omega-3s is a rich food source like fatty fish.

The best advice on seafood is not complicated at all: Americans eat too little fish for good health and choosing wisely is as easy as eating a variety of choices 2 to 3 times a week. There really is no excuse for getting this simple fact wrong.

Buzzfeed Should Stick to What It Knows Best: Puppies and Pop Culture

LOL. Win. Cute. omg!!

No, this is isnt my latest text message conversation. These are actually some of the sections on Buzzfeed, a website that specializes in viral content on favorite cultural pastimes, animals in costumes and celebrity gossip. If you want to see The 20 Best Carrot Hugs Of All Time, 22 Animals Who Are So Over Your Wedding and 15 Awesome Things You Can Make With A Stupid Pizza Box, Buzzfeeds your best bet.

But if you want serious information on topics like food safety, immediately stop scrolling through these lists and turn to the real experts. Its shocking that Buzzfeed even attempts to provide readers (or should we say photo gazers) with useful knowledge and its no surprise that it fails miserably in this department.

Consider a recent post, 11 Horrifying Facts About Your Groceries. It is so full of patently false and distorted information on fish that the only horrifying fact about it is that it was written in the first place. Here are the problems:

  • Tuna mercury poisoning is real. Author Kevin Tang cites Jeremy Pivens supposed case of mercury poisoning as proof.

There has never been a case of mercury poisoning from the normal consumption of commercial seafood in the U.S. published in a peer-reviewed medical journal. Fact is, thanks in large part to scaremongering like Pivens, Americans are entirely too deficient in seafood and miss out on countless health benefits. And when Piven first went on his shameful whirlwind publicity tour, we debunked his scaremongering over and over and over and over again. Even the Hollywood press called his bluff.

  • Whether the fish is canned or fresh, doctors don’t recommend more than 5 ounces of tuna a week.

This is completely fabricated advice. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which were developed by doctors, nutritionists, and scientists, pregnant and breastfeeding women and children should consume 8 to 12 ounces of seafood per week from a variety of seafood types including canned light tuna and up to 6 ounces per week of canned albacore tuna. Meanwhile, the general population has no restrictions.

  • Farmed salmon is prone to parasites and contains eight times the level of cancer-causing PCB.

There are no nutrition or safety-based reasons to suggest wild over farm-raised seafood. Farmed and wild seafood are subject to the same regulatory measures for product safety. Currently, two-thirds of the salmon Americans eat is farm-raised and both types of sourcing are important for sustainability. The levels of dioxins found in farmed salmon are below the safety levels set by the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Union (EU) and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA limit for dioxins in seafood is 2,000 parts per billion. The average farmed salmon has 37 parts per billion, well below the FDA limit.

  • In 2011, the FDA said it inspected only 2% of imported seafood.

Reporters and editors who quote this statistic with no context have a fundamental misunderstanding of the FDA food safety model that governs imported seafood. The Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point model ensures that the safety of food is accounted for at several control points along the value chain, not just at the point of entry. The 2% are targeted shipments that are singled out for further review.

Bottom line? Fish is safe. Serious Buzzfeed articles are not.

Sylvia Earle Misses the Boat on the Latest in Seafood Science

I cant do it anymore.

Thats what oceanographer and former chief scientist at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Sylvia Earle said this week when an ABC Nightline reporter asked her if she eats fish. The piece focused on her year stint at an underwater base called Aquarius, where she studied coral reefs in Key Largo. And although she grew up in a seafood-loving family and she herself has eaten more than my share now she says she cant do it anymore because shes concerned about all the pesticides and mercury floating out here.

Thats too bad for Sylvia. Youd think that a former prize-winning chief scientist would know better.

Seafood is the premiere food source of essential omega-3 fatty acids. High in nutrients and protein and low in saturated fat, fish provides DHA, which helps to reduce risk of heart disease and is vital for developing baby brains and eyes. Research shows that low seafood consumption is the second biggest dietary contributor to preventable deaths in the US, taking 84,000 lives each year. Plant-based omega-3 fatty acids and fish oil supplements havent been proven to provide the same benefits.

All commercially-caught fish are safe for Americans to eat. While mercury occurs naturally in trace amounts in ocean fish, most fish, including the top 10 most consumed in America, have levels well below the FDAs limit of 1 parts per million (ppm). Pesticides (I suppose she is referring to PCBs) also accumulate in fish, but we consume more PCBs from dairy, beef, fruits and vegetables than from fish. Health organizationssuch as Institute of Medicine (IOM), Food Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization (FAO/WHO), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), American Heart Association and the Academy for Nutrition and Dieteticsacross the world recognize that the nutritional benefits of seafood far outweigh any minimal risk of contaminants in fish. In fact, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that all adults (especially pregnant women) eat seafood for at least two meals each week.

Simply Salmon Cakes

As a nutrition professional, I am a firm believer in planning the weeks meals ahead of time. As a working mom of two, I strive to planand shop forthe weeks meals the weekend before. Sometimes I succeed, other times not so much.

This week, I planned ahead. I shopped ahead. I even cemented our weeks meal options on our fridge dry erase board. Its Tuesday and Im not doing so hot. Sunday night, we had whole wheat pasta with veggies and turkey meatballs. It wasnt on the list, but it fit the bill for Sunday night comfort food. Last night, we had salmon cakes with avocado, steamed green beans and Trader Joe’s tater tots. Salmon cakes were on the planned menu, butas it turns outI didnt have all of the ingredients for the salmon cakes. But, it was closing in on dinnertime so I made do with what we did have.

Easy-to-make Salmon Cakes

Let me say that I enjoy salmon patties, but especially the fresh taste of salmon cakes made from canned salmon. I usually like to add fun ingredients, like capers, scallions, fresh herbs or red bell pepper. But, I didnt have those ingredients on hand. And because we didnt have any eggs, I used light mayo to hold the panko bread crumbs, salmon and other three ingredients together. The result? Light, tasty and simple salmon cakes that my husband and extra-picky toddler raved about.

2 (5-6 oz.) cans boneless, skinless salmon, drained and flaked
cup panko or bread crumbs
cup light or canola-based mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
tsp. dried dill weed
tsp. seasoning (I used Trader Joes Everyday Seasoning)
Butter or canola oil for sauting

Mix all ingredients. Form into patties. (This recipe makes about 8 or 9 patties.) Add a little butter or oil to pan and heat over medium-high heat. Saut patties until heated through, about 5 minutes per side. Serve over mixed greens or on whole grain sandwich rolls or buns. Mashed avocado makes a great spread on the bread.

TELL US: Do you have a favorite salmon cakes recipe? If so, please share. Wed love to hear from you!

Posted by Rima Kleiner, MS, RD

Celebrities Dont Have All the Answers

With 17 million followers on Twitter, Kim Kardashian has an enormous opportunity to improve lives simply by sharing accurate information with her fans.

Unfortunately she missed one of those opportunities recently when she spoke to the Daily Mail about her pregnancy. According to the tabloid she is longing for seafood although she knows its not encouraged for pregnant women.

Thats wrong. Experts say pregnant women should eat more seafood, not less.

  • The USDAs Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend everyone, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, eat 2 to 3 servings of a variety of seafood each week (8 to 12 ounces) to improve eye and brain development.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) says there are increased brain development risks in babies whose mothers dont eat enough seafood during pregnancy.

This is still news for far too many women including celebrities like Kardashian and Megan Fox. Ms. Fox recently told Jay Leno that she too craved seafood during her pregnancy but avoided it because of unfounded fears. Again, pregnant and breastfeeding women should eat at least 2 servings of seafood each week.

Its difficult for new moms to separate fact from fiction especially when celebrities spread misinformation about limiting fish during pregnancy. But the negative consequences are very real. By raising unfounded doubts about seafood, they are discouraging people, especially pregnant women, from giving their babies the nutrition they need for the best start in life.

Everyone should follow the recommendations to eat their fish during pregnancy. And celebrities should use their huge audiences to spread the word about the importance of eating fish to ensure a healthy pregnancy.

Update:Naomi Campbell may be a supermodel, but shes certainly no role model. (And yes, it has everything to do with throwing tantrums, assaulting police officers and chucking phones at people). Her latest dangerous move is tellingExtrathat she doesnt eat tuna because of the high mercury level. But as we know, everyone in her path is better off ducking, or in this case, muting the TV, to stay safe from the harm she causes.

Vitamin D: Getting Enough in the Winter

Happy new year!

For a few glorious minutes over the holidays, I cozied up on the couch and caught up on some nutrition reading. The article that really caught my attention was Vitamin D Deficiency in Children in @TodaysDietitian, December 2012 issue.

Weve been hearing a lot about vitamin D lately. Its vital for bone health and helps prevent chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer. Yet, vitamin D deficiency is on the rise, particularly in children and teens.
The Sunlight (and Fish) Vitamin

One reason for the increasing prevalence of vitamin D deficiency is the increasing use of sunscreen. Because our bodies make vitamin D when ultraviolet rays hit our skin, direct sunlight on the skin is the best source of vitamin D. We dont need a lot of direct exposure to the sun (experts say anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes), but most of us just dont get enough sun exposure during the winter months.

The good news is that we can eat more vitamin D-rich foods, like fatty fish and fortified cereals and dairy products, to help bridge the vitamin D gap. Reach for fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, trout and tuna a few times each week to help you meet the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and reduce risk of chronic disease, like cardiovascular disease.

For easy weeknight vitamin D-rich dinners, try these tasty meals.

  • Mix canned or pouch tuna with taco seasoning, shredded cabbage, diced tomatoes and a little cheese. Serve with corn tortillas.
  • Scramble eggs with diced onion, spinach and smoked or canned salmon. Serve with mixed greens salad and fruit.
  • Saute trout in olive oil and serve with cherry tomato halves and garlic sauteed in olive oil. Serve with brown rice and sauteed dark leafy greens.
  • Mix canned salmon with pasta, peas and a little light mayonnaise. Serve with a whole grain crusty bread.
  • Mash sardines with garlic, olive oil and a little mustard. Serve on whole grain toast or crackers, along with a mixed greens salad.

Whats your favorite vitamin-D rich fish? Please share with us! Feel free to leave a comment here or email me at rkleiner@nfi.org.

Posted by Rima Kleiner, MS, RD