Those of you who either know or follow me are probably aware that I’m an absolute seafood fanatic. This is with good reason too, as seafood is an excellent low-calorie source of high-quality protein, health-promoting fats (omega-3 fatty acids), and potent antioxidants, all of which support optimal health.
Now, in spite of its numerous benefits, nearly all types of seafood are contaminated with environmental pollutants like mercury (methylmercury), which can be toxic with excessive exposure. But, “excessive” is the key word here.
That said, here’s how to get the most nutritional value from seafood while reducing your mercury exposure.
Opt for seafood varieties with low levels of mercury
Some types of seafood contain less mercury than others. Fish such as salmon, tilapia, catfish, anchovies and sardines contain the lowest levels making them suitable for everyday eating. Other types of seafood with relatively low levels of mercury include light tuna, trout, whitefish, perch, squid (calamari), crab and scallops.
Due to low mercury levels, eating a combination of such seafoods is a great way to obtain your daily doses of vitamin B12, vitamin D, and the powerful antioxidant mineral selenium. Interestingly enough and unbeknownst to many, the generally high presence of selenium in seafood can actually counteract the negative effects of methylmercury.
Lower your intake of seafoods with moderate mercury levels
To reduce your dietary exposure to mercury, it’s best to limit your overall consumption of seafood varieties that contain moderate amounts of mercury. Such fish generally include snapper, mahi mahi, bass, lobster and halibut. Now, fish like bluefish, sea bass and grouper are actually on the higher end of moderate so you’ll definitely need to closely monitor your intake of these in order to keep your exposure as low as possible.
Ideally, your intake of seafood varieties with moderate mercury levels should be limited to no more than 24 ounces per month. This basically equates to one six-ounce portion per week. If you choose to eat those fish containing moderately higher levels, it’s better to practice extreme moderation when incorporating those into your diet. By “extreme” I mean less than three servings per month. That’s it!
Avoid large predator fish of any kind at all costs
Consuming large predator fish like shark, marlin, tilefish, swordfish and king mackerel can have toxic effects. Since these fish eat smaller fish, they essentially house the highest levels of mercury; therefore, taking in even the smallest amounts can be detrimental to your health. In fact, eating such high mercury-containing fish has actually been shown to result in serious disorders of the nervous system. It’s just not worth it!
Although certain types of fish may pose health risks due to high levels of mercury, it’s important not to avoid eating all types of seafood for fear of being exposed. Seafoods house relatively low amounts of saturated fat and serve as excellent sources of high-quality protein and other beneficial nutrients.
Due to high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, regular consumption of certain fish can greatly lower the risk of numerous chronic conditions including high cholesterol, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, inflammatory disorders and many forms of cancer. Believe it or not, consuming moderate amounts of seafood can also lead to positive pregnancy outcomes in women and improve mental health in children and adolescents.
At the end of the day, the health benefits of consuming seafood clearly outweigh the risks. However, to minimize your exposure to mercury and other pollutants it’s important to make wise choices about the types of fish you eat, how often you eat them, and the size of your portions. Following these simple tips will help you reap the full health benefits of seafood without excessive mercury exposure.