Sounds Fishy: Mercury in Fish
Seafood is an important part of a balanced diet. Not only is it full of nutrients and protein, but it's also very low in the kinds of fats that are unhealthy. Having fish in your diet can help your heart stay healthy and your muscles strong.
There are a couple of environmental issues that are related to eating fish as a major part of your diet. As with the rest of your environment, it is important to be informed and make smart decisions about them:
- Fish may contain chemicals that are harmful to your body, especially for kids with growing brains.
- Because so many people eat fish, there are problems with the way that they are caught, what they are fed in fish farms and how many of them are taken from the wild.
Why Do We Need Fish?
The most important reason for eating fish is to get the benefits of "Omega-3 fatty acids." Omega-3s are fats that our body cannot produce, but are very common in fish. They are great for your heart and your brain.
Eating fish used to be the easiest way to get a high quantity of Omega-3s, but now, they have new chewable gummies for kids. Taking chewable Omega-3 gummies with your other vitamins can help you get the benefits of eating fish without having to worry about the dangers.
In addition to Omega-3s, fish also provide a lot of protein in lean meat without the saturated fat that other meats – like chicken, beef, and pork – have.
Saturated fats are known as the fats that contribute to heart problems. You can tell if a fat is a saturated fat if it is solid at room temperature like margarine or lard.
On the other hand, fish provide good unsaturated fats in the form of fish oil, which help your body and heart. Unsaturated fats are characterized by being liquid at room temperature, like canola oil and olive oil.
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Mercury in Fish
One problem with seafood is that almost all seafood has small amounts of a chemical called mercury. Eating large amounts of fish, especially fish that eat a lot of plants containing mercury, can be dangerous for your health.
When mercury gets into your body, it builds up over time, increasing your risks for heart problems and other diseases. You want to avoid mercury, especially when you are young and your body and brain are still growing and changing.
The sneaky thing about mercury is that when it is in your body, it pretends that it's supposed to be there. It goes through your blood and gets trapped in your liver, kidney, and brain.
Mercury can cross the blood-brain barrier – a membrane that keeps all the parts of the brain separate from the rest of the body – and, unfortunately, it stays there. Lots of mercury in your brain can cause serious problems.
Don't panic, though! Eating fish with a little bit of mercury now and then certainly will not do serious damage, but you should talk to your family about decreasing the amount of seafood with mercury that you eat.
There are some fish that have lower mercury levels than others like tilapia, catfish, sardines, and mackerels, so you can choose to purchase those. Be informed and make smart choices – avoid lots of mercury but remember that fish are a very healthy part of your diet!
To help your family avoid eating fish containing unhealthy amounts of mercury, visit the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) website to print out their Mercury in Fish Wallet Card that your family can take to the grocery store.
The NRDC Web site also lists some more seafood that have low levels of mercury, so it is a good idea to check it out! Alternately, send an adult to the NRDC – Mercury Contamination website.
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Determining what to eat is a very complex thing – eating what is good for you might not be what is best for the environment. A lot of times, it is perfectly safe to compromise. When you are deciding what to choose, take both your health and your environment into account.
Seafood Watch, part of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, has great information on sustainable seafood. Check it out for more information on what you should choose and why.
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Written By: Christina Hartje-Dunn,
college student writer
Revised By: Steven Chang,
high school student writer
Reviewed By: Nancy Brown, Ph.D.
Last Reviewed: October 2013
Below are links PAMF accessed when researching this topic. PAMF does not sponsor or endorse any of these sites, nor does PAMF guarantee the accuracy of the information contained on them.
"What You Need to Know About Fish and Shellfish," United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch.
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