Fishing is not just a professional activity for most of the Pacific Northwest but also a way of life, both culturally and spiritually. Aquaculture (or fish farming) is an important family practice for most fishermen. In certain native tribes of Washington, fish is seen as a symbol of wealth, culture, and heritage. In India, fish holds a significant cultural and spiritual value. Moreover, the aquaculture industry is one of the leading contributors to the global GDP.
If statistics are to be believed, America is the third largest consumer of seafood, behind China and Japan. But funnily enough, our individual consumption of fish falls behind the global average. Americans eat approximately one seafood meal a week, but according to the American Heart Association and the USDA (United States Department Of Agriculture), this quantity needs to be doubled. And here’s why.1 2 3 4
Why You Need To Eat Fish
Even if you’re not quite the fan of seafood, it’s essential that you don’t entirely remove fish from your diet. Seafood isn’t just good for you, it’s also good for the country’s economy! Fish has several nutritional and health benefits, some of which are listed below.5
- The primary nutrients in fish are the omega-3 fatty acids. Since our bodies don’t produce the acids, the only way you can obtain them is through your food. Omega-3 fatty acids keep the heart healthy, regulate blood pressure levels, improve brain function, reduce the risk of diabetes, and prevent inflammation and arthritis.
- Fish are a rich source of minerals like iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium, and potassium.
- You can obtain your vitamins (vitamin D and B2), phosphorous, and calcium from eating fish.
However, eating fish has its downsides, too.
Fish And Mercury: An Overview
While everybody speaks of the benefits of including fish in your diet, it’s important to understand whether there’s such a thing as eating too much fish. And studies think there is! Yes, fish can provide you with the nutrients that your body can’t-do without. But it also contains elements like mercury that can prove dangerous if consumed in excess.
Mercury In Fish Is Harmful To Your Health
Eating too much fish can expose the body to mercury. According to a recent report by the Zero Mercury Working Group, mercury in fish can be more hazardous to health than previously thought. Even very small concentrations of mercury can be harmful. Exposure to mercury can hamper brain function and impair brain development in infants.6 7
Not All Fish Contain High Levels Of Mercury
However, you don’t need to panic. Over 70% of seafood contains relatively low levels of mercury. Fish such as cod, salmon, haddock, herring, and sardines have low levels of mercury and are well within the safe levels. However, swordfish, tuna, and lobster contain unacceptably high quantities of mercury.8
Mercury In Fish Is Harmful To Pregnant Women
The FDA strictly discourages pregnant women from eating too much fish (especially shark, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel) as it affects the brain development of the fetus. It is also considered harmful to feed fish to infants under the age of 6 months.9 In fact, a study conducted in New Zealand revealed that the children of the mothers who consumed too much fish during their pregnancy scored low on cognitive and language skills.10
How Much Fish Is “Too Much?”
Now that we’ve understood the possible complications that can arise from eating too much fish, let’s find out how much fish is “too much.” According to the FDA, your weekly intake of fish must not exceed 8–12 ounces of fish (or about 2–3 servings). To make it easier for you, 4 ounces of fish is equal to the size and thickness of an adult’s palm and 2 ounces is the size of a child’s palm.
Remember, your diet should include fish of various types, not just one or two. If, on a particular day, you eat a fish with high quantities of mercury (like tuna), then make sure to eat a “safe fish” (like salmon) the next day. Also, if your weight is below average, try to eat smaller servings of fish.11
Fish is good for you, as long as you eat it in moderation. You only need to worry about your fish consumption if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
|↑1||Basic Questions about Aquaculture. NOAA Fisheries, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.|
|↑2||Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. American Heart Association.|
|↑3, ↑5||Health Benefits of Fish. Washington State Department Of Health.|
|↑4||Reeves, Peter. The cultural significance of fish in India: First steps in coming to terms with the contradictory positions of some key materials. 2003.|
|↑6||Mercury Contamination, Exposures and Risk: A New Global Picture Emerges. Zero Mercury Working Group.|
|↑7||Zero Mercury Working Group. “An Overview of Epidemiological Evidence on the Effects of Methylmercury on Brain Development, and A Rationale for a Lower Definition of Tolerable Exposure.” (2012).|
|↑8||Mercury In The Global Environment: Patterns of Global Seafood Mercury Concentrations and their Relationship with Human Health. Zero Mercury Working Group.|
|↑9||Eating Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know. U.S. Food Drug And Administration.|
|↑10||Crump, Kenny S., Tord Kjellström, Annette M. Shipp, Abraham Silvers, and Alistair Stewart. “Influence of prenatal mercury exposure upon scholastic and psychological test performance: benchmark analysis of a New Zealand cohort.” Risk Analysis 18, no. 6 (1998): 701-713.|
|↑11||Eating Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know. U.S. Food Drug And Administration.|