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How Safe is Fish

separator Advice about fish can be confusing. You hear many experts recommend that we replace some of our weekly red-meat meals with fish, but at the same time, you hear that some fish contain hazardous substances such as mercury, dioxin and PCBs. You hear that tuna and salmon are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, but is there a safety difference between farmed salmon and wild salmon?

Is it possible to eat tuna and salmon safely? Here are some of the facts that can help you decide what's best for you and your family.

The contaminants in tuna and salmon.

  • Methylmercury, also referred to as mercury, is found in tuna, especially albacore, the white tuna in cans. Mercury can damage the brains and nervous systems of young children, infants and developing fetuses.

    Additionally, some studies suggest that high levels of mercury can contribute to cardiovascular disease, neurological problems and immune system problems in adults.

  • PCBs and dioxin are thought of by most experts as possible carcinogens. These contaminants are found in farmed salmon. However, the levels of PCBs and dioxin aren't high. On the other hand, nobody knows what the effect of these chemicals is in the body over time.

Recommendations for tuna

In 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration issued a statement saying that women of child-bearing age and young children should eat no more than six ounces of albacore tuna per week. However, low-mercury fish, such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon and catfish are considered safe.

Recommendations for salmon

While most recent research indicates that farmed salmon is higher in PCBs and dioxin, wild salmon and canned salmon are thought to be relatively free of the contaminants. Therefore, scientists recommend that pregnant women and young children consume only wild or canned salmon.

Often, salmon at the grocery store isn't labeled to indicate whether it's wild or farmed, but you can always ask. Additionally, you can often buy wild smoked salmon, although it tends to be fairly expensive. And don't forget that an easy way to use canned salmon is to prepare it the same way you would tuna, and eat it on whole grain bread.

The Environmental Protection Agency, The Food and Drug Administration, The New York Times, "Advisories on Fish and the Pitfalls of Good Intent," 15 February 2006
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