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Minimize Your Mercury Intake With Safe Seafood Choices
By Rosalind Haney, RN, CCN

Regulators do not inspect seafood for mercury – not in ports, processing plants or supermarkets.

Mercury passes easily through the placenta and can harm a fetus’ developing nervous system. Fetuses and children under 6 are the most vulnerable to mercury’s effects, including neurological damage and severe learning disabilities. Adults can experience headaches, fatigue, numbness in the hands and feet, and a lack of concentration.

On the other hand, studies have shown that children of mothers who ate fish several times a week during pregnancy were more likely to have higher scores in tests of mental and social ability. Besides being rich in omega 3 fatty acids, fish are a low fat source of protein.

It makes no difference where you shop, as supermarkets, health food stores and gourmet fish shops often use the same suppliers. As a consumer (and especially as a potential mother) you can and should learn to select safe seafood.

  • For the safest seafood think small and wild. Short-lived species such as sardines, shrimp, crab, salmon, catfish, cod, flounder, Pollock and tilapia generally have low amounts of mercury. Wild fish eat plankton and small fish, which are high in Omega 3 essential oils and low in mercury. Wild Alaskan salmon may be the most beneficial.
  • Avoid large predator fish such as swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish, which generally have the most mercury. Orange roughy, walleye, large red drum, snapper and ocean trout have been found unsafe in some waters as well (see the website below for unsafe bodies of water). Avoid farm-raised fish, which may be high in toxins from feed, antibiotics, chemical runoff into ponds, and are low in healthy Omega 3 oils.
  • For women who may become pregnant, currently pregnant, or nursing, and for children younger than 6 years of age, it is advised to limit canned tuna to very occasionally (such as once or twice a month) until a consensus is determined on its safety. Choose canned light tuna over white albacore tuna. Albacore tuna may contain higher levels of mercury.
  • Regulators report that fish sticks and fast-food fish sandwiches, which typically are made with Pollock, are low in mercury. But scientists say more tests are needed to confirm this. Also know that if fish sandwiches are fried, they may be prepared with unhealthy trans fats.
  • Cooking does not remove mercury from fish because the mercury is bound to the meat (not the fish oil). For example, a piece of tuna will have the same amount of mercury whether it is eaten raw as sushi or cooked on the grill.
  • Although some mercury is present in all bodies of water, the nation's drinking water generally is not considered a mercury hazard. Federal law requires drinking water be tested and treated to remove this toxic metal.

If you have concerns about mercury in a particular species of fish or body of water, go to

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