what fish should we eat?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

wild vs farm raised fish

eating fish seems nearly impossible if you are interested in staying healthy by avoiding mercury poisoning and PCB's, while also keeping our oceans in mind. it's a topic i've always been confused about because not only is the wealth of information often misleading, but choosing a fish that's safe for your health as well as the environment doesn't necessarily go hand in hand. i'm a bit apprehensive to cover this topic because people have very strong opinions on the matter (as you should!). but the least i can do is give you some simplified facts to make an informed decision on what fish to choose or whether you want to choose fish at all. unfortunately the answer isn't as simple as farmed vs. wild.

1. eat fish either farmed or caught with sustainable and renewable practices. we knew this right? but how do we really know how these fish were raised or caught? ask your grocer what brand or company they buy from and from there you can do some research. you can also search cleanfish (click on upstream) for a list of sustainable fishing practices. as for farming practices, it's important to avoid fish raised in open net pens and instead choose fish raised in tanks on land. if you choose to avoid farmed fish all together, that's fine too.

2. avoid toxic or endangered fish by using this wallet card at the grocery or when ordering at a restaurant. ok, maybe don't actually whip it out of your wallet in front of the waiter, but you get the idea.

3. the USDA does not currently provide organic standards for fish and shellfish. in other words, seafood labeled organic doesn't necessarily mean anything and may also still contain mercury and PCB's. it all goes back to researching the company you're buying from.

4. did you know that omega-3 fats are essential for the functioning of every cell in our body, yet roughly 90% of us do not consume enough of them? if you opt to not eat fish at all (or very rarely), consider taking a purified fish oil supplement with at least 1,000-2,000mg of EPH/DHA. omegagenics is a good brand. incorporating hemp seed into your diet is also an option. if fish is your go-to omega source, salmon is by far the best choice.

photo by jenna park.

22 comments:

susan said...

I eat a lot of salmon and tuna. Should I be worried?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Dr.Oz! You sound like him on #4. He talks about omega 3 ALL the time. I don't like sea food at all. I eat lots of walnuts for omega 3 fats. I try to eat organic as much as possible but even organic products have chemicals and bacteria. About a year ago I read Maria Rodale's Organic Manifesto. Have you read it? She discusses sea food and how it is not regulated to actually be organic.

Natalia A said...

You should never eat farmed fish - more often than not it's incredibly high in pesticides as the fish are fed with vegetable matter that isn't organic and full of chemicals. So it's only wild or organic.
As a nutritionist I suggest mainly salmon and trout and advice on reducing tuna and swordfish as much as possible.
I am also incredibly particular with the supplements and only trust a couple of brands when it comes to them.
x

Danielle E. Alvarez said...

Thanks for sharing these tips. I eat fish often but also wish to be more conscious of my choices.

mandy said...

Thank you, Jenna, for raising this important issue. Also, Seafood Watch is a very helpful resource when making healthful and sustainable food choices. http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/sfw_recommendations.aspx?c=ln

mandy said...

Oops, I meant to write BECCA! the photo credit confused me!

Jesse said...

I really appreciate this post as I'm trying to educate myself and my family on seafood (which we all love!).

rebecca said...

susan-
check the wallet card (link in post) regarding tuna. since you are eating salmon frequently, it may behoove you to do some research regarding where it's coming from, how the fish are raised, etc. once you find a brand you trust, stick with it!

anon-
i love dr. oz! i have read excerpts of the organic manifesto but have yet to read the book in it's entirety. thanks for the reminder.

mandy-
thanks for the link!

Jackie {York Avenue} said...

Rebecca, have you found a fish source here in NYC, or a particular brand or store that you think is good? If so I'd love to know! Thanks :)

Kelly Brito said...

I keep telling myself I need to eat more fish. I LOVE it! But rarely eat it. =/

Beautiful sushi!!!! Mine always turn out pretty ugly - tasty, but ugly.

rebecca said...

jackie-
great question! i don't cook a lot of fish at home (small apartment, lingering smells), but on the rare occasion that i cook salmon i usually look for wild coho salmon (from british columbia) at whole foods in my neighborhood.

freshwater coho salmon from the US (raised in tank systems, not open nets) is also a good choice.

coho is sometimes also called silver salmon. hope that helps!

rebecca said...

natalia a-
i used to stay away from farmed fish as well, but i've learned it can be a good choice depending on how the fish are raised since wild fishing practices are not always sustainable to the environment either.

as a general rule, fish raised in tanks on land is a sustainable farming practice as opposed to fish raised in ocean pens.

that being said, choosing a wild sustainable fish practice is equally as good!

thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

the one basic "rule" to follow regarding fish, from what i've read, is: only eat small fish. the smaller the fish, the lower it is on the food chain, the less mercury it will have accumulated. big fish like tuna are high in the food chain, so it's best to limit consumption.

sardines are one of the best in terms of both nutrition and lower rates of mercury.

rebecca said...

anon-
yes! great rule of thumb.

monicatheyeti said...

I would like to add one more piece to this discussion. Eating fish IS possible without worry of mercury toxicity as long as you are consuming fish with a higher level of selenium vs mercury. The reason why mercury is toxic is because it has a high binding affinity to selenium (and selenoenzymes) which play a major role in preventing oxidative damage. Any tissues in the body that have high levels of oxygen consumption (brain, heart) produce a lot of oxidative molecules (free radicals) and this is one huge piece to why mercury is a concern if the amount of mercury intake is higher than selenium, because it depletes the amount of selenium available for the body to prevent oxidative damage. This means that when you consume fish that has greater amounts of selenium than mercury, because mercury has such a high binding affinity to selenium, that it will cancelled out effectively because it is already bound to selenium, and still leaving extra selenium for the body to use in these antioxidant pathways. The nice thing is that most seafood that are higher in mercury than selenium are those Americans do not tend to eat such as whales or shark.

Anyway here is a pdf that further explains how this works http://www.undeerc.org/fish/pdfs/Selenium-Mercury.pdf

and a chart that shows various mercury/selenium levels in different seafood optionshttp://www.wpcouncil.org/councilmtgs/145th/Selenium_Poster_final.pdf

My only concern with the recommendation to take a daily fish oil supplement instead of eating whole sources of fish is that studies have shown that while high dha/epa consumption only seems to have cardioprotective benefits when the subjects were eating fish in their diet, when this diet source is replaced by a fish oil supplement the outcomes in the research seem to get a little dicey and in some cases outcomes were worse in the fish oil supplement treatment group. It is confusing and frustrating to say the least but it may have to do with the fact that omega-3 polyunsaturated fats are delicate and oxidize easily (go rancid).

Sorry this was long! I've been on this understanding the whys of nutrition kick lately and was excited to see this discussion on your blog pertaining to something I've recently read about. :)

rebecca said...

monica-
thanks so much for your input!

Jackie {York Avenue} said...

Rebecca, thanks so much, I'm going to look for that at Whole Foods! But yeah, I definitely hear ya on the lingering smells aspect! :)

Aaron said...

I have a lot of problems with this list. First of all, all wild seafood is by definition, organic. That does not mean it's necessarily good for you. Secondly, you say that farmed fish is a better choice, and nutritionally, that is almost never true. Third,you say that salmon is "by far the best choice" for getting your Omega 3's. Mackerel, Herring and Sardines all have higher Omega 3 levels. Plus, being smaller fish, they don't have some same build up of toxins that a larger fish like salmon can have. Lastly, you comment on doing your own research to find out how and where your fish comes from is unrealistic. Seafood changes hands so many times before it even gets to a grocery store, making it impossible to know specifics. The best we can do is make sure the fishery as a whole is sustainable. Also, I like to check the country of origin, which is always on the label. I would say most Americans don't need to worry about eating too much seafood, thus depleting the oceans or consuming too much mercury. Our seafood consumption is tiny compared to most of the world. EAT MORE FISH!

Lena at A Crimson Kiss said...

Who would have guessed fish would be such a fire starter of a topic? I know I'm supposed to eat it (right? As long as it's not toxic/bad for the environment) but I just can't get into fish!

Jessica Crossfield said...

If the world's seafood consumption continues at the current rate, in 50 years there will be very few sea animals left. Eat fish, but do so in moderation as with any meat. Secondly, there are vegetarian forms of DHA. Fish get it from the algae they eat, so we can get it from the algae too and skip the middle man :)

Here is a BBC article talking about the issue: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20120920-are-we-running-out-of-fish

Brittany Auger said...

As a born and raised Alaskan I cannot stress the importance of STAYING AWAY from farmed fish, especially salmon. Nearly every resident of my small fishing community proudly displays a bumper sticker/banner/t-shirt that reads "Friends don't let friends eat farmed fish" Often times the salmon are injected with dyes to make their meat bright pink like wild salmon, and the fish are often riddled with sea lice that fall to the ocean floor and contaminate the wild population. My uncle, and so many of my good friends are commercial fisherman, a good friend of mine fishes on the boat that belonged to his father, and his grandfather before that, for many families fishing is a way of life, and fish farming has crippled that. When these fish break away from the pens (which often happens) It is detrimental to the wild population. Not to mention the injected hormones and dyes put into farmed fish, take away many of the health benefits that wild fish possess. Finally, with farmed fish flooding the market at a lower cost than wild fish, many commercial fisherman are forced to sell their fish at little to no profit, find second jobs (my uncle also works as a carpenter), or turn away from the profession completely. Again, I am not an expert on this I just know how it has affected my small town and my family.

And because I don't want to end this on a bummer or seem like a downer I thought I would share one of my favorite party tricks.
Do you know the five types of salmon?
Hold up your hand and you can always remember
Thumb=chum
pointer finger (used for poking)=sockeye
middle finger (longest finger)=king
ring finger = silver
little finger (pinkey)=pink

Oh also my high school mascot was a king salmon.... ferocious, right?

sarah cal said...

This is one of my favorite posts of yours to date. Thanks for starting the conversation and the information

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