The best seafood selections to avoid heavy metals

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Safest Seafood to Eat(NaturalHealth365) Most of us know that fish and other seafood items can provide an abundant source of omega-3 fatty acids and proteins. But, with heavy metals threatening the food chain, many fish lovers wonder how to keep track of which seafood still offer nutritional value without the associated health risks.

First of all, to become an educated food consumer, we must know the source of our seafood.  For example, according to recent numbers, the United States imports about 91 percent of all the seafood consumed and only about 50 percent is ‘wild-caught’ – with the remainder being farm-raised.  Bottom line, as a health conscious consumer, it’s important to know where (and how) your food is produced to limit your heavy metal burden.

Consumers beware: Heavy metals threaten our food supply

Here in the U.S., heavy metals such as cadmium, lead, arsenic and mercury threaten the safety of consumable seafood. It’s no surprise that most mercury pollution that ends up in waterways is from the burning of fossil fuels.

Once it hits the ocean’s surface, bacteria convert mercury to the more toxic form, methylmercury. From here tiny phytoplankton feast on the bacteria, which is consumed by small fish and then consumed by larger fish. Usually, it’s those larger fish that end up on our dinner plates.

A guide to choosing the safest fish

  • Wild-caught Alaskan salmon
  • Wild-caught Pacific sardines
  • Wild-caught Dungeness crab – from the U.S. west coast. Keep in mind, commercially-popular blue and king crab live in polluted waters, but dungeness crabs caught off of Oregon are ethically maintained.
  • Wild-caught U.S. Atlantic longfin squid. This may be a new one to you, but ethical chefs are putting it on menus everywhere.

If you choose to eat tuna, Albacore tuna caught in the western U.S. and Canadian waters show the least amount of mercury. These fish are generally younger and have had less time to build up toxins.

Which fish have the most heavy metals?

Shark – which are at the top of the seafood chain – consume very large fish with alarming mercury and other heavy metal levels. Because of their abundant muscle tissue, shark boast some of the highest heavy metal levels in the ocean today.

Swordfish, everywhere, contains mercury – especially those caught in Singapore, one of the most popular commercial sources.

King mackerel and tilefish round out the list of fish that tend to be loaded with heavy metals.

How can I best shop for safe seafood?

Like foods that grow on land, seafood varieties also have peak seasons – for example, where toxicity may be lower or higher. The Environmental Defense Fund’s Safe Seafood Selector works with scientists and fisheries to promote sustainable management and practices throughout the world.

Their Safe Seafood Guide helps consumers plan their seasonal seafood grocery list by keeping track of seafood rated for pollutants, over-fishing and fraud. You can download their app directly to your smart phone to keep track of what waters boast the least contaminated, healthiest seafood while you shop. Consumers can cross-reference their favorite selections with Oceana’s Seafood Fraud Guide to be sure what they’re buying is labeled properly.

What should I do to limit my exposure to toxic heavy metals?

Obviously, limit your consumption of seafood. But, if you happen to go out or find yourself eating seafood with heavy metals – there are certain foods to eat that will help you eliminate heavy metal debris.  Generally speaking, a diet rich in a variety of therapeutic foods can enhance the benefits of seafood while reducing the potential negative effects of heavy metal exposure.

To reduce your heavy metal burden, complement meals with leafy greens such as cilantro, parsley and watercress plus contaminant-free chlorophyll or chlorella. You can also include medicinal teas throughout your day that include milk thistle and burdock – as well as red clover and dandelion.

This information is not designed to scare you about your food. It’s merely provided to help you make an educated decision about the food you eat. After all, what’s more important than having safe, delicious food that supports optimal health?

About the author: Christine M. Dionese L.Ac, MSTOM is an integrative health expert, medical journalist and food writer. She’s dedicated her career to helping others understand the science of happiness and its powerful effects on everyday human health. Christine practices, writes and speaks on environmental functional medicine, epigenetics, food therapy and sustainable living.


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  • Rebecca

    Studies have shown that populations that consume fish on a regular basis have less chronic disease and are long living. It isn’t only that fish is mega healthy, but it displaces other higher fat sources of protein.

    The populations such as the Japanese eat more fish than those in Western population such as in the U.S. and have a much lower incident of heart disease.

    The average person in Japan consumes over 154 pounds of fish per year, which averages out to about a half pound per day. The Japanese consume 12% of the world’s fish and account for just 2% of the population.

    This shows that fish should be part of a healthy diet and the article points out ways to make it happen.

    • synrgii

      That was clean fish. Who knows what all this toxic fish will do to the overall health of populations like the Japanese.

  • Donald Foley

    Fish one of the healthiest foods is being turned into a factory experiment. Farm raised fish is distinctly different from wild caught fish. Farm raised fish has less omega-3 fatty acids and higher concentration of omega-6 fatty acids the kind that creates inflammation.

    Farmed fish have a 20% lower protein content according to a USDA review. Besides being given antibodies to starve off disease they are treated with pesticides to combat the sea lice that runs rampart in closed quarters.

    Pesticides that have been banned for decades have concentrated in the fat of these farmed fish. Virtually all fish factories are beginning to use drugs to grow larger fish faster. These drugs produce more growth hormones. What they do in humans hasn’t been studied

    • synrgii

      We need to start our own healthy anchovy and sardine farms.

  • Pamala Martin

    Donald your post is interesting, it’s also disturbing as it is estimated by the year 2030 most of the fish we buy will be farm raised. The estimate is at least two thirds of the fish world wide will be from fish farms.

    Right now anchovies and sardines considered forage fish are wild caught. These are my favorite fish though they don’t enjoy the popularity of the larger fish on the market.

    Fishermen in the know have said if consumers substituted sardines for the typical larger sized farm fish they world spend less, while fishermen would prosper. At this time sardines are sold as a feed source for farm raised fish and commercial feed for livestock.

    They go on to say three times more people will get fed if sardines and anchovies gain in popularity. This would leave more sardines in the water, which would be good for the ecosystem.

  • Debra

    There are charts showing various fish and their relative omega-3 content along with their mercury levels. According to some sources Sardines will come out ahead of Salmon on the amount of omega-3 fatty acids. In fact Sardines comes in third after flax seeds and walnuts as a food rich in omega-3 fatty acid.

    Both salmon and sardines are quite low in mercury compared to other species of fish. In the book “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth” it states “Sardines are a health food in a can.”

    Sardines and anchovies can be put on the safe seafood list. Now, all we need is people to start using more of these two economical source of protein and healthy fats.

    • synrgii

      This is all true about how healthy sardines are…IN THEORY. Unfortunately, many companies use poisons along with the sardines:
      1) Unlined aluminum can/tins = NO!
      2) Lined cans/tins that contain BPA (Yes: Trader’s Joes uses BPA liners on their sardines! I’m returning all mine!) = NO!
      3) Packed with toxic oils (canola, soybean, or “olive” which could be anything really with all the fake olive oil blends now) = NO!
      4) Olive oil in general, which is overheated in the canning process = NO!
      5) Tomato sauce = Way too acidic for your body, leaches impurities from the metal can/tin, and a member of the nightshade family which hurts your endocrine system = NO!
      6) High in factory salt (not sea salt) = NO!
      7) Other added chemicals = NO!

      If you can find sardines that are: from the wild, fresh-water, salt-free or with sea salt, no other chemicals, packed in water, using a BPA-free liner…go for it. I’m still looking! I’ll buy them all when I find them.

      • danzinor .

        Wild Planet, sustainably caught sardines. Get mine from Green Polka Dot Box.

        • synrgii

          Very nice. Thank you so much for the lead. I shall swim after it (pun intended…)

  • Ron Wheeldon

    What about the affects of Fukushima on Pacific fish stocks. Marine life is dying all up and down the US and Canada Pacific west coast. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, numerous reports from marine authorities indicate elevated levels of cesium in Pacific maybe causing the die off. I love my seafood but won’t eat farm raised or fish from the Pacific.

    • Christine Dionese

      Thanks for your comment Ron and bringing this up. We created this guide for our readers that currently consume seafood. We all know that despite the potential for lurking environmental chemicals in our food supply that some of us still either rely partially on fish or eat them from time to time, so we intended to suggest how people can do it more safely.

      This is a very important, ongoing subject that we stay on top of here at Natural Health 365 though- you’ll see a feature coming soon where we discuss the impact of Fukushima on the food chain.

      Thanks again Ron!

      • Dino

        I’m with Ron, worried about our waters and Fukushima.. I have not eaten fish since 1 year after the exposure.

  • synrgii

    Eat strawberries 30mins BEFORE your fish meal. Flushes your digestive system (as all fruit does), increases your acidic production, and binds to some toxic metals for removal. You can also eat the fish with the leafy greens mentioned above “such as cilantro, parsley and watercress plus contaminant-free chlorophyll or chlorella.”

    (Of course, never eat (fresh) fruit with or after a meal. Basic food combining rule.)

  • Marc

    wheatgrass, spirulina, or N Acetyl Cysteine, avocado, all of these will clear heavy metals through the liver. I’ve used all of them. because of the high mineral content I prefer Wheatgrass – Wheatgrass Juice wheatgrass, this the strongest form, I use znatruals dot com, organic decent price. Wheatgrass Juice powder is $44 for 1 lb