Health experts tell us to eat more fish for the beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids, which are critical for brain and eye development during pregnancy and young childhood. Yet fish can also contain mercury — a metal in the environment that is toxic to the brain and nervous system.

Quinn on Nutrition: Update on seafood and mercury

  • May. 20, 2017 12:30 a.m.

What’s the deal with mercury in seafood? Health experts tell us to eat more fish for the beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids, which are critical for brain and eye development during pregnancy and young childhood. Yet fish can also contain mercury — a metal in the environment that is toxic to the brain and nervous system.

In January of 2017, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) along with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued updated advice for how much and what types of fish are safe for us to consume, according to an article on this topic by registered dietitian nutritionist Eleese Cunningham in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Here are some highlights:

Bigger fish contain more mercury. Makes sense. Mercury occurs naturally in soil and water and traces are found in all fish. But it’s the older, larger predatory fish — those that eat smaller fish — that accumulate more mercury. Fish known for their high mercury levels are best avoided by pregnant and breastfeeding women and young children, says the FDA. They include shark, swordfish, orange roughy, bigeye tuna, marlin, king mackerel and tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico. (Tilefish from the Atlantic Ocean have much lower levels of mercury.)

The benefits of eating fish far outweigh the risks. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish, particularly the one called docohexaenoic acid or DHA, is vital for optimal development of the eyes and brain. Yet a recent analysis found that 50 percent of pregnant women eat far less seafood than the recommended 8 ounces a week.

There are safe ways to reap the nutritional benefits of fish and minimize mercury exposure as well. Revised guidelines by the FDA include a chart of “Best” and “Good” fish choices based on mercury content.

“Best” choices includes cod, crab, salmon, shrimp, tilapia and canned light tuna. “Good” choices include halibut, Monkfish, ocean striped bass, albacore/white tuna and yellowfin tuna. Find the complete chart at fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/Metals/ucm393070.htm.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women, young children and women of childbearing age (16 to 49 years) are advised to eat 2 to 3 servings a week from the “Best Choices” list or 1 serving a week from the “Good Choices” list. (One serving is about the size of your palm, or about 4 ounces for adults and 2 ounces for children.)

And here’s a question: What’s the difference between albacore (white) tuna and canned light tuna? Albacore, or white tuna, is larger and lives longer than the fish generally used in canned light tuna, says the EPA. Canned light tuna is often a mix of a variety of smaller tuna species such as skipjack.

And remember, says the FDA, “fish” refers to all fish, including shellfish. Enjoy a variety.

Just Posted

Accused murderer’s story questioned

Jason Klaus spends day being cross-examined by lawyer for co-accused Joshua Frank

Red Deer Royals extend fundraising deadline for St. Joseph fieldhouse project

Fundraising chair says it’s a tough slog raising money in this economy

Red Deer seeks public input on coming changes to sign bylaw

A half-kilometre buffer zone could separate billboards in Red Deer under proposed… Continue reading

Innisfail man injured in home invasion

Police say the injury was non life-threatening

Credentials questioned man at Remembrance Day services

Veterans are crying foul after an alleged faker posed as a former… Continue reading

WATCH: Festival of Trees begins

A preview dinner and silent auction was held Wednesday night at Westerner Park

Volunteer with victim services in Red Deer

Learn more at info session on Nov. 27

Updated: Missing Sylvan Lake women found

Women were reported missing earlier this week

Liberals propose billions for affordable housing, including individual benefits

A Liberal government fond of promising help for those working hard to… Continue reading

Alberta Party sees growth in Central Alberta

Greg Clark addressed health care needs addressed in Red Deer

Ponoka council freezes Ponoka Fire Department spending

All discretionary spending frozen until full budget numbers are presented

WATCH: Ponoka’s Festival of Trees sees continued support

Three days of celebration and fundraising held at the Calnash Ag Event Centre

Creationist will speak at home-schooling convention in Red Deer

Ken Ham has debated Bill Nye on the Earth’s origins

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month