Fish: Health Benefits and Dangers

Farrah Sarafa - Columnist
Posted on Monday 18th January 2010

As a “pescatarian,” a vegetarian who eats fish, for more than a decade, I’ve had to learn about the health value of different kinds of fish. Healthier, lighter, and better for the heart than artery-congestive red meats known to cause Alzheimer’s disease, heart diseases and colon cancer, it is important to know where the fish we eat comes from and how it was caught. Only then can we truly grasp that which we put into our bodies, and ideally minimize our unsustainable environmental impact.

Mercury, DDTs, PCBs and pesticides are among the most dangerous chemicals that accumulate in the fish we eat. Large, predatory fish like shark and swordfish have larger mercury reserves than the healthier albacore tuna, farmed oysters and mussels, wild sardines, wild shrimp, wild salmon, wild prawns and rainbow trout. When industrial byproduct enters lakes, rivers and oceans, it converts into toxic methylmercury. Small fish absorb the toxin and are later ingested by the bigger fish. The methylmercury accumulates and transfers to we humans who eat these bigger fish.

Mercury exposure in large amounts can impair brain and kidney functioning. It has also been known to damage the central nervous system of unborn fetuses, so it is mandatory that we minimize our intakes of these larger fish. Large fish, such as shark, king mackerel, swordfish and tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, have the highest mercury levels. Canned albacore tuna (“chunk white”) typically contains higher mercury levels than white, light tuna, so it is essential to minimize the number our weekly servings of these kinds of fish.

On the other hand, fish oils are medically proven to prevent cancer (colon and breast), cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and stroke as well as combat heart rhythm dysfunction, inflammation and depression. Smaller fish also contain very heart healthy acids, as Omega-3 fatty acids are extraordinarily beneficial to heart health. The two kinds of fatty Omega-3 acids, EPA and DHA, reduce dangerous blood fats known as triglycerides and coronary complications, and are found in fatty fish like mackerel, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and lake trout.

In conclusion, if you are a health-conscious pescatarian or fish lover, it is essential to keep up with the changing seafood recommendations, sustainable seafood sources and shifting seafood restaurants with catches of day near you.

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