Someone told you there is no safe seafood? Let's talk about that.
Remember when fish was the healthy alternative to meat? These days though, the oceans are so polluted, grabbing a bag of frozen shrimp at the supermarket may give you mercury poisoning! I know what you're thinking: ok, I'll just stop eating all fish, then. Please, don't.
It's still a smart choice, as long as you choose the right kind. Safe seafood is full of proteins and fatty acids that improve the health of your heart, the activity of your brain and the look of your skin. You want them in your diet. You just need to learn how to navigate the muddy waters to catch only the best the seas have to offer you. Let's dive in!
What's Wrong With Seafood?
When we think of toxins in fish, mercury instantly comes to mind. This poison can seriously hurt your nervous system and cause brain damage to babies in the utero. In the milder cases, it is known to cause irritability, anger outbursts, restlessness, anxiety, depression and insomnia. If you've been munching on fish and not feeling quite yourself lately, mercury is likely to blame.
The bad news: you can't avoid mercury completely. Mercury is in the water so all fish have some trace of it.
The good news: it is the dose that makes the poison.
While it is true that in high amounts mercury is dangerous, in tiny doses your body can easily dispose of it, so it's considered harmless by most professionals. So, the question is not, “how do I find fish free of mercury” but “how do I know a fish doesn't have too much mercury?”. Rule of thumb is the size. The bigger a fish is, the more mercury it has. Swordfish, tuna and other big monsters of the sea eat plenty little fish, which drives up their mercury levels.
By the way, mercury isn't the only toxin in your fish. Antibiotics, pesticides and other nasty stuff can find their way into their bodies and end up on your plate. A small portion once in a while of these larger fish won't kill you. Just don't make them part of your regular diet. So, specifically, what should you eat and what should you avoid? Here are a few examples to get you started shopping for healthier seafood:
The Avoid List
Atlantic Salmon: This delicious fish is a diet staple. We love it roasted and sprinkled with lemon or baked with cherry tomatoes. Just as long as it isn't the Atlantic kind. Don't let the word fool you by the way, Atlantic salmon wasn't fished out of the Atlantic water. It's raised in crowded off-shore farms and given antibiotics to prevent diseases. Problem is, not all countries are strict with their use of antibiotics. You don't want to ingest too much of that stuff!
Bigeye & Yellowfin Tuna: This is usually what you get when you eat sushi. We're not saying sushi is bad, when done right, it's a delicious and healthy meal. But when it's made with these types of tuna, it can do more harm than good; they're the highest in mercury! If you must have tuna, look for the Canned Light type. Fancier "white" tuna is made with albacore, which has mercury levels almost three times higher than the smaller skipjack, used in most canned light tuna.
Swordfish: Who else is addicted to swordfish? This big fish is delicious! Too bad it contains high levels of mercury. That's what it gets for eating so many smaller fish contaminated with it. It's so high, that the FDA recommends children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding avoid it completely!
Shrimp: Shrimps are one of the few foods loaded with vitamin D – and you know how few those are! That makes it even more unfortunate that shrimp is a no-go. The frozen (and previously frozen) shrimp you find in your local supermarkets and restaurants mostly come from Asia, where they put plenty of antibiotics in the water, and feed them yucky things. Not the kind of stuff you want to eat, sadly. This news is a bummer, I know. Not all hope is lost though. If you are lucky enough to live in the US, and have access to seasonal wild-caught Gulf shrimp, you can safely eat it without any of the issues mentioned above with the Asian shrimp.
The Buy List
Catfish: You can never go wrong with catfish. Well, as long as it's born and bred in the U.S. Here, almost all catfish are farmed in eco-friendly pots free of nasty toxins. Rich in vitamins B12 and D and fatty acids, this fish helps you achieve your daily dietary requirements, keeps your heart healthy and your skin glowing!
Oysters: These little molluscs are mad for algae. It's the main food they gobble down on a daily basis. Couple that with their short shelf life (poor oysters!) and they don't have much chance to pick up harmful pollutants. They're basically the healthiest seafood you can eat – either cooked or raw. That's great news for your skin because oysters are loaded with moisturizing omega-3 fatty acids. Plus, they contain more zinc than any other food. Zinc is a powerful acne-buster. Indulging in these little delicacies can nourish your body, and keep pimples away at the same time!
Rainbow Trout: How pretty is this fish? The blue, pink or green highlights on its silvery skin make it stand out in a sea full of fish. But the trout that you've picked up from the market doesn't come from there. It almost surely was raised in man-made rivers where it had no chance to come in contact with mercury. Phew! If you like salmon, chances are you will love trout too!
Wild Alaskan Salmon: Atlantic salmon may be on the to-avoid list, but Wild Alaskan Salmon is good for all. Unlike its poor farmed cousins, Wild Alaskan Salmon swims freely in relatively clean waters. Plus, it has plenty more omega-3 fatty acids, moisturizers that keep your skin soft and glowy. Salmon also has essential vitamins such as B12 and D, which keep your hair, skin and bones healthy and strong.
When In Doubt
There are too many fish in the sea to list them all here. If you'd like to try a fish that's not on the list but aren't sure it's a good idea, here are three tips that'll help you make the right choice:
- Pick smaller fish that are low on the food chain: Think scallops, sardines and salmon (the right kind!). They're less likely to be contaminated with mercury.
- Buy domestic instead of imported: When it comes to antibiotics, the US has stricter regulations than most foreign countries. Plus, the food is likely to contain fewer pesticides and preservatives.
- Choose wild-caught instead of farmed: Although it is possible to find small farms that use sustainable practices and no pesticides, wild-caught is often still the safer choice when you have to decide on the spot.