Seafood usually is good for you

May 16, 2007|by LYNN LITTLE

When thinking about what to have for dinner, fish is a good choice. Fish is low in saturated fat and can benefit the cardiovascular system when replacing other meat that is higher in saturated fat. Also, omega-3 fatty acids in fish - considered to be a "good" fat - benefit heart health and are essential in pregnancy and infant development.

The American Heart Association recommends two fish meals a week for heart disease prevention. Those already diagnosed with heart disease are advised to consume three fish meals per week. Knowing a few additional facts about eating fish can be beneficial to your health.

Salmon, a naturally fatty fish, is rich in omega-3 fatty acids that promote heart health, but you should consider a few factors when buying salmon.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are banned industrial pollutants that linger in our environment. PCBs can accumulate in the body and have been shown to cause cancer in lab animals. Studies have found high levels of PCBs in farmed salmon, since their feed might contain PCB. It's not necessary to avoid farmed salmon, but rather it is advisable to include it only occasionally in your diet. Health experts recommend choosing farmed salmon from Chile when available. Eating farmed salmon instead of not eating salmon at all benefits your heart more than it increases your risk of cancer.


Wild-caught salmon is preferable to farm-raised salmon because these fish have a more varied diet. A new law requires that supermarket fish be labeled by its country of origin and whether it is farmed or wild-caught. Most canned salmon is wild-caught.

Mercury is a metal that occurs naturally in our environment, but additional levels in fish might come from industrial pollution that has settled into oceans, lakes and rivers, where bacteria change it into toxic methyl mercury. Mercury concentrations can be a concern when big fish eat little fish that feed on plankton in polluted water. As a result, bigger fish likely have accumulated more mercury.

Mercury can damage developing nervous systems when it is consumed by children or pregnant and breast-feeding women. The current recommendation is that pregnant and breast-feeding women and children younger than 12 years old can safely consume 12 ounces per week of cooked seafood and as much as 6 ounces of white albacore tuna per week. Canned light tuna is lower in mercury than canned albacore tuna. Large predatory fish such as shark, swordfish, tilefish or king mackerel should be avoided because the concentration of mercury is likely to be much higher. For more information about mercury in fish, go to

You can monitor your own mercury consumption in fish, by using the mercury calculator provided by the nonprofit group Take Action at

You won't see the U.S. Department of Agriculture's certified organic logo on fish because there is not a USDA certification for organic seafood. A producer can call its seafood organic on the package, but the claim is meaningless. Because the USDA does not oversee this label, there is no guarantee farm-raised salmon, for example, was raised on organic feed or that it is free of PCBs.

Even if your cholesterol is high, you can include shrimp in your diet. A myth that people with high cholesterol should avoid shrimp got started because it's true that shrimp is high in dietary cholesterol. Shrimp has 165 milligrams of dietary cholesterol in a 3-ounce, cooked serving. That's more than you'll find in other shellfish. The same serving size of oysters, scallops, lobster, crab and clams ranges from 45 to 90 milligrams of cholesterol. However, the saturated fat content of shellfish is low, and saturated fat raises blood cholesterol much more than dietary cholesterol.

Eating fish at least twice a week will improve your heart's health and reduce the likelihood of dying suddenly. Pay attention to recommended choices and amounts of fish, especially for children and pregnant and breast-feeding women, to control the amount of mercury consumed. It's advisable to consume a variety of fish to avoid an excess of PCBs while still benefiting from the omega-3 fatty acids in fish.

Broil, bake or grill the fish on a rack instead of sauting or frying to allow the fat where the toxic chemicals concentrate to drain away, leaving beneficial omega-3s in your meal. Enjoy eating fish - it's good for your heart.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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