How to Minimize Exposure to Mercury from Eating Fish

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How to Minimize Exposure to Mercury from Eating Fish

Mercury poisoning is a global health threat that is not given the attention it deserves.  Part of the problem is that it is tasteless, colorless, odorless, and symptoms may appear long after exposure.  Unfortunately, eating fish is the most common way that people become exposed to dangerous levels of mercury, and a lot of people don’t know they are at risk until it’s too late.

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Why this is a Problem

The reason that mercury in fish is a problem is that it accumulates in tissues and stays there.  When we eat contaminated fish, the mercury is transferred into our bodies where it also stays there and accumulates over time.  While we can resist the effects of mercury exposure if it occurs in small doses, the risk is that over time, we will become sick as those amounts increase in our bodies.  This is why it is so important to be aware of sources of contamination and to minimize the intake of certain species of fish. 

It’s also important to remember that not all fish are contaminated, and there are many species that are perfectly healthy to eat.  The following list provides a basic outline that can help you to maintain safe levels of mercury and avoid over-exposure.

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Tuna

Tuna is considered to be at the top of the list when it comes to mercury poisoning.  The fats and oils in Tuna provide the perfect environment for mercury to be transferred into people.  The reason tuna is so risky is that it is readily available, cheap and a very popular food item.  As a general rule of thumb, adults should limit their consumption of albacore tuna to one can per 9 days, and chunk white tuna shouldn’t be eaten more than once every 3 days per government recommendations.  The government also recommends that we avoid eating ahi or bigeye tuna altogether.  For small children and infants, replace days with weeks in order to keep the risk of exposure to a minimum.

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Safe Species

Whitefish and crustaceans are considered to be the safest to eat, and there are a lot of species to choose from.  Examples include Flounder, tilapia, ocean perch, sole, squid, shrimp, crayfish and catfish.  Other species such as anchovies, sardines, oysters, scallops, crab and clam are also considered to be the safest.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, so consider doing some research to explore your options in order to benefit from the diversity of species out there that are deemed safe. The good news is that you can eat these species to your heart’s content without worrying about exposure to mercury.

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Moderately-Safe Species

Trout, bass, carp, halibut, lobster, snapper, freshwater perch, cod, sea trout, skate and jacksmelt are considered to be moderately-safe.  The government recommends that we try and eat less than six servings per month, and again, this is not an exhaustive list.

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Dangerous Species

The consumption of bluefish, grouper and sea bass should be limited to about 3 servings per month.  Marlin, king mackerel, orange roughy, shark and dolphin should be consumed in very small amounts or avoided altogether. 

The dangers of high mercury exposure are so numerous that it is impossible to list all of the health risks here.  However, it can contribute to birth defects, a wide-range of organ and neurological problems.  It’s also important to remember that we can be exposed to high levels of mercury in our environment as well.  This is why keeping the consumption of foods that contain mercury to a minimum is so important.  However, you shouldn’t let this scare you from eating fish.  Just be judicious and do your research so that you can enjoy their fantastic health benefits without the associated risks.