Doctors, dietitians and health nuts everywhere are stressing the importance of eating fish. There are many reasons behind this fish obsession – when you choose the right varieties, you can gain heart-healthy benefits from omega-3 fatty acids that can reduce your chances of developing cardiovascular disease later in life. These acids can reduce blood cholesterol, heart attack and stroke. The Mayo Clinic recommends that adults eat two 3-ounce servings of fish per week. However, this doesn’t mean any old fish will do. Some selections contain unhealthy fats, as well as toxins that can harm your body. Children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to these fish. Avoid the following fish and discuss any specific concerns with your doctor.
1. American Eel
As a popular sushi additive, American eel has made its way to numerous sushi joints across the country. You may also find it in buffet sushi rolls, as well as those made in your local grocery store. There are a few reasons you should pass on this sushi favorite. First, Prevention Magazine says the fish has high levels of mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which act as toxins in the body. Furthermore, many of the fish farms are privy to pollution in their waters. Your best bet is to pass on the American eel, and to opt for another similar tasting fish such as Atlantic squid.
Catfish is a favorite in many types of dishes. According to the Mayo Clinic, however, catfish doesn’t have the same heart-healthy fats as other types of fish. To make matters worse, this selection is often fried. Another concern is where the catfish comes from. Prevention Magazine reports that almost all catfish in the U.S. is imported from Vietnam, where they use harmful antibiotics in the farming process. Finding wild-caught catfish is better, but unless you do the fishing on your own, there’s a slim chance you’ll find non-farmed catfish on the market.
3. Imported Shrimp
Many people who don’t eat much fish still like shrimp. Fried, grilled and plain, this is one of the most popular seafood ingredients in the country. Aside from the fact that shrimp doesn’t contain omega-3s, most of it is imported outside of the United States. Prevention Magazine says that imported fish can carry traces of E. coli, antibiotics, insects and chemical cleaners. Much of these contaminants are directly related to farming practices. If you must fulfill shrimp cravings, choose domestic versions instead. Shrimp caught wild from the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Northwest don’t carry the same contaminants as imported versions.
Diners who eat shark are often perceived as being adventurous, just like the predators on their plates. However, the large size of this fish means there is a higher likelihood of mercury in the shark. The eating habits of sharks can lead to mercury build-up over their lifespans because of the fact they consume smaller fish that may also have mercury in them. A longer lifespan also means a higher chance of accumulating mercury. Not only do these rules apply to sharks, but the Mayo Clinic also expresses the same concerns over swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish consumption.
Like catfish, the popular tilapia lacks heart-healthy fats to make this a good dietary selection. Common cooking practices, such as deep frying, makes this fish an even worse choice. If you must eat tilapia, make sure it’s caught in the wild and that it’s broiled or grilled. Also avoid farmed tilapia, as they may contain traces of feces from unsanitary living conditions.
Tuna consumption can be debatable. While the Mayo Clinic deems the fish as healthy, tuna can pose some risks in pregnant women and young children. Bottom line: by limiting your portions, tuna can be healthy in small amounts. Herring and salmon are also among the healthiest of fish choices.
Saltwater fish contains more omega-3 fatty acids than freshwater versions. However, you may want to avoid fish that comes from polluted sea waters to avoid contamination. When in doubt, ask the fishery or restaurant where they get their fish. If there’s any doubt, pass up the meal for something else.
Special precautions should be taken for children under 12, as toxins in fish can be more harmful in this age group. Pregnant and nursing women should limit fish consumption to 12 ounces per week, according to the Mayo Clinic. This will help to decrease the risk for toxin contamination in babies.
When choosing fish, stay away from choices that aren’t considered healthy. Focusing on omega-3 fatty acid containing fish caught in the wild is your best bet for heart health without any adverse side effects. Discuss specific diet concerns with a medical professional. Keep in mind that fish oil supplements don’t offer the same heart-healthy benefits as the actual foods.