What to Know About Dangerous Mercury in Fish

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Seafood has long been touted as an important part of a healthy diet. Not only does seafood tend to be lean and low in overall calories when compared to other protein sources, it is also low in saturated fat and high in omega-3 fatty acids. These components make it a heart-healthy food. Omega-3 fatty acids are also essential in the healthy development of the brain, which is why eating fish and shellfish can be beneficial to younger children as well as adults.

While seafood has been long considered a key element to a healthy diet, some nutritional experts are now scaling back their recommendations of certain types of fish due to the high traces of mercury that are increasingly turning up in these species.

Although nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury, some are higher than others and should be limited. According to the Food & Drug Administration, certain species of fish have very high levels of mercury, more so than other varieties. The biggest offenders are king mackerel, shark, swordfish, and tilefish. Pregnant women and young children in particular should avoid these types of seafood. Though most seafood is safe to consume, it still helps to follow certain guidelines.

Safe Seafood Guidelines

* Eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) of fish a week. Choose seafood that is lower in mercury. Some of the common types that are relatively low in mercury are shrimp, salmon, pollock, and catfish.

* Albacore (white) tuna has a higher concentration of mercury than canned light tuna. Therefore, consumers should be selective in the type of tuna they choose and read packaging on canned products carefully.

* Eating freshly caught fish from friends and family from nearby water sources is common. It is important to check posted advisories about the safety of local lakes, rivers and coastal areas before eating any seafood taken from those waters.

* When feeding fish and shellfish to young children, choose smaller portions to minimize potential mercury exposure.

Methylmercury and Mercury

Mercury comes in many different forms and has the potential for being a highly toxic substance in high doses. Mercury occurs naturally in the environment but can also be introduced from industry and certain chemical products used during daily living. Methylmercury is the most toxic form of mercury and the one most commonly found in seafood. It accumulates in the fish or shellfish system and doesn't get excreted as fast as it gets consumed. Methylmercury can alter genetic and enzyme systems, affect the immune system, damage the nervous system, and damage developing embryos.

Although some seafood can contain dangerous levels of mercury, the majority of seafood is safe to eat and can be a healthy alternative to fattier meats and poultry. TF122800

CAPTION: Although some types of seafood have high levels of mercury, the majority of fish is safe to consume and a great addition to a healthy diet.

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