The Lowdown About Mercury in Fish

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The Lowdown About Mercury in FishMany people talk about mercury found in fish. There is mercury in our bodies as well, whether or not we eat fish. There is plenty of interest in the subject of fish and mercury. There is plenty of conflict, too, as the buildup of the element is bad, while the fish itself is very beneficial for your heart. Here is a quick look at what you should know on this important topic.

First of all, what is most important is that eating fish overall is an extremely healthy dietary choice. The ultra-important omega-3 fatty acids lower heart disease risk, significantly. And the list of health benefits in omega-3s goes far beyond this. On the flip side, studies have found that fish high in mercury does the exact opposite, increasing the danger risk. Studies have looked at large numbers of men who suffered heart attacks, examining the level of mercury in their toenails and their hair. They found that higher levels of mercury were abundant in heart attack victims — boosting the risk of heart disease by 50%.

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So what is the best plan of action? Cutting out fish is not advisable. Knowing the species that are typically high in mercury is the way to go. The first thing to know is that fish high in mercury are large predators. They live for a long time and eat lots of smaller fish, which could be carrying trace amounts of mercury. Mercury is also naturally present in ocean water and all throughout the food chain that operates beneath the waves. The type, called “methyl mercury,” binds to proteins in fish tissue. For this reason, most fish have small amounts of mercury. Thus, large fish that eat lots of small fish may be high in mercury.

The problem fish go like so:

— Shark, king mackerel, tilefish, and swordfish: You should avoid these entirely.

— Escolar: Member of the mackerel family. In Japanese restaurants, it might be sold raw as “sashimi” or “sushi.” Elsewhere it might be referred to as white tuna, oilfish, or butterfish. It is sold in stores in steak form. Try to avoid this fish if you can. Also, if you do eat this fish, be sure to cook it in a way that allows oil to run off, because it is not digestible in the body.

— Marlin: This large ocean fish is notoriously high in mercury. It is actually more of a game fish than one we’d regularly eat.

— Orange roughy: The U.S. is the world’s biggest market for this deep-sea fish that is easily processed into boneless filets. Frozen orange roughy is commonly found in supermarkets. Try to avoid this one or eat it only once in a while.

— Tuna: Either fresh or frozen, tuna can be high in mercury. In cans, choose light tuna rather than albacore (“white”) tuna. You don’t have to avoid tuna steaks by any means, but they generally have more mercury than their canned counterparts.