How mercury levels in seafood may impact health
All humans are exposed to at least a low level of mercury, and this isn’t necessarily unsafe. But some people are exposed to high levels of mercury that, ultimately, can be dangerous. Eating certain types of seafood is the most common way to be exposed to mercury, which is why you may have been warned against it.
The dangers of mercury exposure
Risks vs. reward of eating fish
Smart eating tips
- Avoid: Some fish are better off completely avoiding, due to their high mercury content. This is especially true if you’re considering getting pregnant, or if you’re already pregnant, breastfeeding, or feeding small children. These fish include: swordfish, king mackerel, shark, tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, marlin, orange roughy, ahi tuna, and bigeye tuna.
- Reduce: Adults should eat no more than two servings of light tuna per week, and children should only be eating about four ounces per week. Canned light tuna isn’t high in mercury, but it’s better to eat healthier fish that are lower in mercury. Another way to make your seafood choices healthier is to eat smaller fish and certain types of shellfish, like anchovies and scallops, as opposed to the big ones. Bigger fish tend to have more mercury because they consume the smaller ones, and ingest all of the mercury that their prey has eaten, and the cycle continues.
- Simplify: If you’re a sushi savant, ask for your order to come without tuna, mackerel, sea bass, or yellowtail.
- Choose: Of course, certain kinds of fish are not only tasty, but highly nutritious. Choose to eat fish and shellfish with low mercury levels, which include salmon, tilapia, scallop, clam, oyster, shrimp, anchovies, catfish, haddock, and cod.
Mercury: The bottom line
Many types of fish and shellfish are great sources of nutrients for adults and children alike, and should be enjoyed! But mercury exposure poses a real threat to those who eat fish. To keep your mercury levels low, choose fish that have a very low mercury content. If you’re considering getting pregnant or are already pregnant, you should definitely avoid the kinds of fish that are high in mercury.
- “2017 EPA-FDA Advice about Eating Fish and Shellfish.” EPA.gov. United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2017. Web. Accessed 10/26/17. Available at https://www.epa.gov/fish-tech/2017-epa-fda-advice-about-eating-fish-and-shellfish.
- “A Guide to Protecting Your Family’s Health.” NRDC. Natural Resources Defense Council, May 2006. Web. Accessed 10/26/17. Available at https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/walletcard.pdf.
- “Mercury in seafood.” Seafood.edf.org. Environmental Defense Fund, n.d. Web. Accessed 10/26/17. Available at http://seafood.edf.org/mercury-seafood.