Most of us know that fish and other seafood items can provide an abundant source of omega-3 fatty acids and proteins. But, with heavy metals threatening the food chain, many fish lovers wonder how to keep track of which seafood still offer nutritional value without the associated health risks.
First of all, to become an educated food consumer, we must know the source of our seafood. For example, according to recent numbers, the United States imports about 91 percent of all the seafood consumed and only about 50 percent is ‘wild-caught’ – with the remainder being farm-raised. Bottom line, as a health conscious consumer, it’s important to know where (and how) your food is produced to limit your heavy metal burden.
Consumers beware: Heavy metals threaten our food supply
Here in the U.S., heavy metals such as cadmium, lead, arsenic and mercury threaten the safety of consumable seafood. It’s no surprise that most mercury pollution that ends up in waterways is from the burning of fossil fuels.
Once it hits the ocean’s surface, bacteria convert mercury to the more toxic form, methylmercury. From here tiny phytoplankton feast on the bacteria, which is consumed by small fish and then consumed by larger fish. Usually, it’s those larger fish that end up on our dinner plates.
A guide to choosing the safest fish
- Wild-caught Alaskan salmon
- Wild-caught Pacific sardines
- Wild-caught Dungeness crab – from the U.S. west coast. Keep in mind, commercially-popular blue and king crab live in polluted waters, but dungeness crabs caught off of Oregon are ethically maintained.
- Wild-caught U.S. Atlantic longfin squid. This may be a new one to you, but ethical chefs are putting it on menus everywhere.
If you choose to eat tuna, Albacore tuna caught in the western U.S. and Canadian waters show the least amount of mercury. These fish are generally younger and have had less time to build up toxins.
Which fish have the most heavy metals?
Shark – which are at the top of the seafood chain – consume very large fish with alarming mercury and other heavy metal levels. Because of their abundant muscle tissue, shark boast some of the highest heavy metal levels in the ocean today.
Swordfish, everywhere, contains mercury – especially those caught in Singapore, one of the most popular commercial sources.
King mackerel and tilefish round out the list of fish that tend to be loaded with heavy metals.
How can I best shop for safe seafood?
Like foods that grow on land, seafood varieties also have peak seasons – for example, where toxicity may be lower or higher. The Environmental Defense Fund’s Safe Seafood Selector works with scientists and fisheries to promote sustainable management and practices throughout the world.
Their Safe Seafood Guide helps consumers plan their seasonal seafood grocery list by keeping track of seafood rated for pollutants, over-fishing and fraud. You can download their app directly to your smart phone to keep track of what waters boast the least contaminated, healthiest seafood while you shop. Consumers can cross-reference their favorite selections with Oceana’s Seafood Fraud Guide to be sure what they’re buying is labeled properly.
What should I do to limit my exposure to toxic heavy metals?
Obviously, limit your consumption of seafood. But, if you happen to go out or find yourself eating seafood with heavy metals – there are certain foods to eat that will help you eliminate heavy metal debris. Generally speaking, a diet rich in a variety of therapeutic foods can enhance the benefits of seafood while reducing the potential negative effects of heavy metal exposure.
To reduce your heavy metal burden, complement meals with leafy greens such as cilantro, parsley and watercress plus contaminant-free chlorophyll or chlorella. You can also include medicinal teas throughout your day that include milk thistle and burdock – as well as red clover and dandelion.
This information is not designed to scare you about your food. It’s merely provided to help you make an educated decision about the food you eat. After all, what’s more important than having safe, delicious food that supports optimal health?