Go Fish

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Tuna, salmon and other fish have become the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the grocery store. On one hand, there's the remarkable health benefits of fish: Since the 1970s--when scientists discovered that fish-adoring Inuit largely sidestepped heart disease despite eating hardly any fruit and veggies--research proving omega-3 fatty acids benefit your heart and health has been piling up.

On the other hand, this protein-dense fare comes with two big caveats: Environmental toxins are turning certain fish into poison-on-a-plate, and the practice of over-fishing is rapidly transforming our oceans into ghost towns.

But don't worry, you don't have to binge on fish or avoid it altogether, just learn how to make smarter choices. Here's how to sort through all the confusing messages out there and find the healthiest, "greenest" fish around.

Fish Tale: Eating any fish provides good-for-me omega-3 fats and rewards me with amazing health benefits.

Fish Fact: Not all fish are blessed with the same levels of omega-3 fats. Fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, tuna, trout and mackerel have the most; white fish like cod, haddock, pollock, catfish, mahi-mahi and tilapia tend to pony up fewer of these superhero fats.

The Catch: You don't need to consume a lot of fish to get the benefits. In The Journal of the American Medical Association, a study found eating just 3 to 6 ounces of fish per week, especially varieties rich in omega-3s, can cut the risk of death from heart attack by 36 percent and total mortality by 17 percent.

Plus, the marine-sourced omega-3s called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) have been linked to a reduced risk of vision loss, Parkinson's disease, breast and kidney cancers, osteoporosis, inflammation (perhaps a boon to those with aching post-workout muscles), obesity, diabetes, stroke, depression and cognitive decline.

Smart Move: Take heed of the American Heart Association's recommendation for at least two fish meals per week, with your sights set on the omega-3 rich versions. Just remember, any health benefits can be canceled out if the only fish that finds a place on your plate is battered and fried, therefore drowned in unhealthy fats and processed carbohydrates.

If you find it hard to eat that much fish, try contaminant-free fish oil supplements, such as those from Astavita (astavita.com), Carlson (carlsonlabs.com) and Nordic Naturals (nordicnaturals.com). Life's DHA (lifesdha.com) provides algae-derived DHA for vegetarians.

Fish Tale: The fish in my local market are healthy for consumption because they are monitored for contaminants.

Fish Fact: Some fish are so full of mercury they could rock out in a heavy metal band, and these levels are monitored infrequently. Released through industrial pollution, mercury accumulates in waterways and then builds up in marine species as they feed. When we eat them, mercury can be deposited in our bodies, where it acts as a neurotoxin and can negatively affect our immune and cardiovascular systems, causing symptoms like unexplainable fatigue, memory loss, problems with vision, or hearing and coordination loss.
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