Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet, since they contain high quality protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fats, and contain omega-3 fatty acids. A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish can contribute to heart health and the proper growth and development of children. Women and young children in particular should include fish or shellfish in their diets due to the many nutritional benefits.
Nevertheless, fish and shellfish may contain traces of mercury. For most people, the risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern. Some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system. The risks from mercury in fish and shellfish depend on the amount of fish ingested, and the levels of mercury in the fish and shellfish. Therefore, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are advising women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children to avoid some types of fish, and eat fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.
If you follow these recommendations for young children, pregnant women and women of child-bearing age:
- Do not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish because they might contain high levels of mercury.
- Eat up to 12 ounces a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. Five of the most commonly eaten fish and shellfish that are low in mercury are the following: shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, Pollock and catfish.
- Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas.
It is always important to follow food safety guideline, and that is certainly true with the mercury content of fish. If you are fishing, get a copy of the state guidelines for fish consumption for the area in which you are angling. It is very important to realise that some areas are more heavily polluted by mercury and methylmercury than others. Using up to date food safety guidelines, you can largely avoid the harmful mercury content of fish.