Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Common Questions about Fish Contaminants

Fish is one of the healthiest foods available, but unfortunately some contaminants are making it less than ideal!
What can or can't we eat? Is it a good option for kids and pregnant women? Is canned tuna safe? Oh, it is so confusing....

We did some research and came across a great FAQ provided by the Environmental Defense Fund organization. Here is a summary:

What are contaminants?
Despite the health benefits of seafood, eating fish that are contaminated with toxins and chemicals can pose considerable health risks. Contaminants may include:
* metals such as mercury and lead,
* industrial chemicals such as PCBs, and
* pesticides such as DDT and dieldrin.
Many of our oceans, lakes and rivers are surprisingly tainted. As a result, some fish are so contaminated that Environmental Defense recommends limited or no consumption.

What are the risks of eating seafood contaminated with mercury and PCBs?
Contaminants such as mercury, PCBs and dioxins build up in your body over time and may result in health problems, ranging from small, hard-to-detect changes to birth defects and cancer. Key facts about the risks include:
* It can take 5 years or more for women in their childbearing years to rid their bodies of PCBs, and 12-18 months to significantly reduce their mercury levels.
* Mothers who eat contaminated fish before becoming pregnant may have children who are slower to develop and learn. Developing fetuses are exposed to stored toxins through the placenta.
* Women beyond their childbearing years and men face fewer health risks from contaminants than children do. Following the advice below will minimize your exposure and reduce the health risks associated with these contaminants.

What about mercury in canned tuna?
The two most popular types of canned tuna – white and light – vary greatly in their average mercury content. Overall, it’s best to exercise caution in how much tuna you (or especially your children) consume.
* Canned white tuna consists of albacore, a large species of tuna that accumulates moderate amounts of mercury. Therefore, Environmental Defense recommends that both adults and children limit their consumption of canned white tuna.
* Canned light tuna usually consists of skipjack, a smaller species with approximately one-third the mercury levels of albacore. Therefore, Environmental Defense recommends only that young children (ages 0-6) limit their consumption of canned light tuna.

A word of caution: Some canned light tuna reportedly contains yellowfin tuna, which has similar mercury levels to albacore. These products are sometimes (but not always) labeled ‘gourmet’ or ‘tonno’, and their consumption should be limited by adults and children.
Do the health benefits of omega-3s outweigh the risks associated with contaminants in seafood?

Fish is generally healthy to eat, but there are some types you should eat infrequently, if at all. Consider the following:
* For young children and women of childbearing age, consumption of mercury-contaminated fish can severely impact a child's development.
* Older women and men may find it an acceptable tradeoff to exceed recommended seafood meal limits to increase their omega-3 intake.
* People at high risk of cardiovascular disease must weigh the cancer risk of eating fish high in PCBs with the benefits of eating fish high in omega-3s, in which case the benefits of omega-3s may outweigh the cancer risk (1 in 100,000 - the level recommended by the EPA). However, these chemicals are known to cause serious health problems besides cancer, so the tradeoffs are not simple.
* The good news is that there are several low-contaminant, high-omega-3 seafood options available (see Eco-Best list), so there’s no need to risk eating contaminated fish.

Source: Environmental Defense Fund

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