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Types of fish to eat, avoid

While fish offers many health benefits, choose your fish carefully to avoid contaminants.


During this season of Lent, many people will follow tradition and make fish a bigger part of their diets.

While fish can offer many health benefits, as it is low-fat and packed with protein, vitamins and nutrients that can lower blood pressure and help reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke, fish also can offer risks, including exposure to mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

We asked Dave Clark, a clinical dietitian at Good Samaritan Hospital in Dayton, who specializes in cardiovascular health and nutrition counseling, to tell you five types of fish to eat and five types of fish to avoid to stay healthy.

Types of fish to eat

“All of the fish listed below are high in heart and brain healthy omega-3 fatty acids,” Clark said. “Due to the nature of the fish, either quick-growing or small-sized specimens, the amount of contaminants such as mercury and/or the environmental pollutant polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) is low.”

1. “Albacore tuna (canned, light tuna): This canned tuna is generally a troll- or pole-caught albacore tuna. If the can has a Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label, it will assure you of U.S. or British Columbia caught tuna that is a younger, smaller (under 20 pounds) fish resulting in a low mercury and PCB contaminant content while providing an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.”

2. “Salmon (wild-caught, Alaska and freshwater coho): Alaskan salmon and the waters it travels are strictly monitored by biologists making this wild-caught fish a low mercury and PCB choice. Coho salmon are raised in closed freshwater pens that minimize contaminants. Salmon contains many vitamins and minerals including the B vitamins thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, B6 and B12 along with its well-known omega-3 fatty acid content.”

3. “Sardines (wild-caught, Pacific Ocean): This young, small fish is very low in mercury and PCBs while high in omega-3 fatty acids. There is also a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals choked in these tiny little fish. Sardines are high in calcium (from the bones present), vitamin D and phosphorus to help prevent bone disease. Sardines are also one of the few foods that contain Coenzyme Q-10, which is a nutrient that works at the cellular level to promote healthy skin, joints, memory and cardiovascular function.”

4. “Rainbow trout (farmed): U.S. rainbow trout are farmed in freshwater ponds or ‘raceways’ that are protected from contaminants. The trout are fed a fishmeal diet that helps conserve resources as well as promote increased omega-3 fatty acids. Trout is also an excellent source of vitamin B2 (riboflavin), which is essential (for) proper energy metabolism and various cellular processes.”

5. “Oysters (farmed): Oysters farmed in natural reefs provide a good source of omega-3s while boasting a low mercury level. However, these shellfish are typically farmed in warm waters that may contain bacteria that can cause illness if eaten raw. Enjoy the health benefits of oysters that are thoroughly cooked. Oysters boast an array of vitamins including calcium, iron, zinc, selenium, as well as vitamins A and B12 packed into a low-calorie serving.”

Types of fish to avoid

“Even the fish in the unhealthy group contain good levels of omega-3 fatty acids,” Clark said. “Unfortunately, the elevated levels of mercury and/or PCBs can somewhat negate the positive benefits of consumption of these fish, especially in young children and pregnant women. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends limiting the amounts of these five types of fish due to their high contaminate levels, which are often a result of their highly predatory habits, large size and long life span.”

1. “King mackerel: King mackerel have a life of 25 plus years, resulting in very large fish that accumulate elevated amounts of mercury and PCBs over time as they eat smaller fish. The FDA recommends that king mackerels that are 39 inches or larger be avoided as it has one of the highest levels of mercury and PCBs.”

2. “Shark: The predatory nature of the shark allows it to easily consume larger fish in the ocean, quickly elevating its mercury and PCB contamination.”

3. “Swordfish: Swordfish are also a highly predatory fish, eating larger fish that contain mercury and PCB contaminants. Swordfish are also typically caught when they are a large size, resulting in an older specimen with elevated mercury and PCB levels.”

4. “Grouper: Grouper has a long life resulting in a very large fish. Unfortunately, this allows the fish to acquire high levels of mercury and contaminants over its lifetime.”

5. “Orange roughy: Orange roughy is also a fish with a long life, one that can surpass 100 years. This long life allows for plenty of time for accumulated mercury and PCB contamination.”



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