The Diet Detective: 6 Health and Nutrition Facts You Need to Know

Is Mercury Really a Problem in Fish?

Hmmm. Now I'm confused. Researchers from the University of Bristol suggest that fish accounts for only 7 percent of mercury levels in the human body. The researchers analyzed 103 food and drink items consumed by 4,484 women during pregnancy and "found that the 103 items together accounted for less than 17 percent of total mercury levels in the body."

According to the researchers, "after fish (white fish and oily fish), the foodstuffs associated with the highest mercury blood levels were herbal teas and alcohol, with wine having higher levels than beer. The herbal teas were an unexpected finding and possibly due to the fact that herbal teas can be contaminated with toxins."

More: How to Cook With Sustainable Seafood

The authors concluded that advice to pregnant women to limit seafood intake is unlikely to reduce mercury levels substantially.

What is mercury? It's a trace element found in rocks that occurs naturally in the environment and can also be released into the air through industrial pollution. In the water, it turns into methylmercury and poses a threat to the developing nervous systems of unborn children, infants and young children.

But fish also provide many vital nutrients, especially omega-3 fats (a nutrient we are not capable of producing on our own), which help the IQ and eyesight of the developing child. Many fish are also high in protein and low in saturated fat.

More: The 3 Best Times to Load Up on Protein

Fish with the highest mercury concentrations, according to the FDA and EPA, are shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. Five of the most commonly eaten low-mercury types of seafood are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish.

Another commonly eaten fish, albacore ("white") tuna, contains more mercury than canned light tuna. Even women and young children can consume as much as 12 ounces of fish a week (about two meals) from the low-mercury category and remain below the exposure level designated to be of concern by the federal government.

More: 5 Healthy Seafood Recipes

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