Did your mom call fish “brain food”? She was right. But how much do you know about the nutrients in your favorite seafood? And is naturally occurring mercury really a concern? What about for pregnant women?
This website shows how much fish you can safely eat—and just how much nutritional goodness is packed in every bite.
The developing fetus gets special health benefits when pregnant women eat fish. As you aim to eat 2-3 servings of seafood a week, the EPA and FDA say there are just four uncommon fish you should avoid—shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. But don’t worry: Chances are you’re not eating these fish anyway. (Added all together, they account for less than 1 percent of the seafood Americans eat. That’s less than a single serving per person per year.)
It used to be conventional wisdom that the more cholesterol you found in your food, the more doctors could find in your blood. But that idea is based on obsolete research. The Harvard School of Public Health now advises that “[t]he types of fat in the diet determine to a large extent the amount of total and LDL [bad] cholesterol in the bloodstream. Cholesterol in food matters, too, but not nearly as much.”
Harvard also advises that worrying about the tiny levels of cholesterol in seafood is “something of a red herring.” Studies have shown that “eating shrimp and lobster,” which contain more cholesterol than other seafood, “doesn't raise LDL [bad] cholesterol. Also, most people make more cholesterol than they absorb from their food.”
Remember, fish is also the most readily available source of “good” fat (omega-3s). The American Heart Association now advises consumers to seek out fatty foods in the seafood aisle. The AHA “recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two times (two servings) a week.”
Good news! serving of fish name is low in calories and loaded with these essential nutrients. (For nutrients other than omega-3s, “RDI” numbers represent the USDA’s Reference Daily Intake):
|Omega-3s (EPA+DHA):||0.61 g (121.7% of daily need*)|
|Protein:||0.61 g (12.5% of RDI)|
|Vitamin B12:||0.61 mcg (13.2%)|
|Potassium:||0.61 mg (3.1%)|
|Selenium:||0.61 mcg (21.3%)|
|Iron:||0.61 mg (0.5%)|
Health problems associated with mercury in commercial fish are theoretical, and highly unlikely unless your weekly intake of fish is more than:
sources: USDA, EPA, FDA. (*Omega-3 “daily need” from the Int’l Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids)
Do you have concerns about whether farm-raised or wild salmon is healthier to eat? The short answer is that they are (nutritionally) almost identical. Most farm-raised salmon tends to be a bit higher in omega-3s, but some consumers just prefer the taste of wild salmon more—and in some regions farm-raised salmon is far more available (and cheaper).
For most, choosing the right salmon comes down to taste. Salmon from aquaculture farms can taste milder, and wild salmon tends to have a more robust flavor to it. The salmon yoursquo;ll find in pouches and cans is wild.
It’s not terribly important which kind of salmon you choose. The crucial thing is to get enough fish (whether it’s salmon or some other species) in your diet.
According to an upcoming report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), “consumption of fish provides energy, protein, and a range of other important nutrients, including the long-chain n-3 [omega-3] poly unsaturated fatty acids.” These international agencies are urging governments around the world to do a better job of encouraging people to eat fish.
This is good news for anyone who wants to reap the health benefits of a diet that’s rich in seafood, including pregnant women (and women who are planning to become pregnant).
The FAO/WHO report also says that “maternal fish consumption lowers the risk of suboptimal neurodevelopment in their offspring.” In other words, babies born to women who eat fish while they’re pregnant have a head-start over other kids.
And the news gets even better: That same report finds that “consumption of fish, particularly oily fish, lowers the risk of coronary heart disease mortality.” So fish isn’t just brain food. It’s also heart-healthy.
Scientific research is clear about how the omega-3s can reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, certain cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, low birth weight, post-partum depression, and pre-term delivery.
Beyond omega-3s, seafood is also full of protein, vitamin B12, potassium, selenium, and, in some seafood varieties, iron and vitamin D. Just like with fruits and vegetables, different types of fish and shellfish are bursting with different nutrients. The best way to get all of the nutritional benefits of seafood is to mix it up and try a little bit of everything.
So how do your favorite fish stack up? This calculator—the only one of its kind anywhere online—can help you count the omega-3s and other important nutrients you get from seafood. For the first time, you can see how much fish you need to eat to reach the USDA’s Reference Daily Intake of these nutrients (RDI, indicated in parentheses).*
This calculator can also tell you how much fish is safe to eat, based on mercury standards from the Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency. The level of naturally occurring mercury in ocean fish, for instance, is insignificant in the portion sizes that consumers typically eat.
Congratulations! Your favorite fish is an excellent source of protein, omega-3s, and other essential nutrients.
The Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency recommend that pregnant women, women who are planning to become pregnant, nursing moms, and very young children all should eat 12 ounces of seafood each week, and avoid just four kinds of fish. Those fish species are shark, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel. Added all together, they account for less than 1 percent of the seafood Americans eat. That’s less than a single serving per person per year.
Government guidance about mercury in fish applies only to this limited group of Americans. And even then, the advice is clear that pregnant and nursing moms (and young children) need to eat more seafood, not less.
For most people—including men, teens, older kids, post-menopausal women, and women who don’t plan to become pregnant—there are no government-recommended limits on the amount (or type) of seafood that is safe to eat.
Yet many consumers have been scared away from this health food because of overblown mercury warnings from in news reports. This calculator shows the enormous amounts of fish an average person would have to eat before any health concerns would be justified.
Making wise seafood choices is all about understanding that the overall health benefits of eating fish are huge. Getting omega-3 fatty acids and other important vitamins is an important part of staying healthy. Governments all over the world understand this, which is why fish is on everyone’s “must eat” list again.
Note: The USDA currently does not have a Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for omega-3s. But the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids advises that people concerned with cardiovascular health should consume at least 500 milligrams per day.
This website addresses the nutritional features of commercial seafood (fish and shellfish available in stores and restaurants). It is not intended to help you make decisions about how much or how often to eat sport fish caught by friends and family in lakes and streams.
HowMuchFish.com calculates the health impact and risks of eating seafood for adults and school-age children. It is not meant to provide dietary information for children who weigh less than 30 lbs.