Make the Most Out of a High Fish Diet — Minus the Health Risks

May 23, 2016 | 379 views

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high quality salmon

Fish has become a staple of the American diet due to potential health benefits and flavor preferences. However, how sure are you of your selected fish’s safety?

Knowing where the fish comes from and how they were raised are important considerations when you’re purchasing fish, since there might be repercussions if you don’t check their quality.

Something Is Fishy Here

Some of the most popular types of fish in the world are also some of the most contaminated. The world’s major waterways are polluted with mercury and other heavy metals, such as dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and other agricultural chemicals.

If you eat toxin-loaded fish, you are incurring health risks. Mercury, especially methylmercury, has been shown to harm your nervous system.

At above average doses, it can affect your reaction time, language, and judgment, while in very high quantities, it can disrupt your capability to walk, speak, think, and see. If you’re pregnant, mercury may increase your risk for miscarriage.

Children exposed to mercury may also have birth defects and weakened development of sensory, motor and cognitive functions that result in learning difficulties, poor coordination, and inability to concentrate. Meanwhile, exposure to fish contaminated with PCBs can cause health problems, especially for your reproductive health.

So which types of fish should you watch out for? The answer is simple: avoid larger fish, especially those on top of the food chain. They accumulate more of these toxic substances because they live longer. Some examples of these fish include:

  • Tuna (especially tuna steaks, sushi, and canned tuna)
  • Halibut
  • Sea and largemouth bass
  • Marlin
  • Pike
  • Walleye
  • White croaker
  • Sword fish
  • Shark

Look Out for Mislabeled Salmon

Salmon is one of the most popular types of fish in the world, but unfortunately, it’s often mislabeled. According to Randy Hartnell, founder and president of Vital Choice Wild Seafood and Organics, studies have shown that 70 to 80 percent of salmon labeled “wild” are actually farmed. This is unfortunate because farmed fish are bred in captivity and fed an artificial diet comprised of:

  • Grain products, mostly genetically modified corn and soy
  • Chicken and feather meal
  • Artificial colorings
  • Synthetic astaxanthin

If you wish to avoid these artificial junk, here are dos and don’ts on buying salmon that you should remember the next time you want to purchase high-quality fish:

Dos Don'ts
Choose canned salmon that’s labeled as “Alaskan salmon,” since this type of salmon cannot be farmed. Don’t buy Atlantic salmon, since this type of fish is most likely to be farmed.
Sockeye salmon is another good option because this fish cannot be farmed. It can be identified with its bright red color. Watch out for the label that reads “wild salmon” since it is most often misused. “Wild Alaskan salmon” is the better choice.
Ask the clerk at your grocery store or the waiter at the restaurant you’re dining in where their fish comes from. If they’re unsure or have no answer for you, chances are that the fish might be farmed, or worse.  

The Bounty of the Sea

There are other types of fish that you can eat without having to worry about heavy metal contamination. My favorite fish is wild-caught Alaskan salmon because it is superior in the following ways:

  • You have less risk of being contaminated of toxic material since these fish grow in the wild, unlike farmed salmon, which are bred in pens in oceans
  • Alaskan salmon are healthier since they are able to swim around and move, while farmed fish become the aquatic equivalent of “couch potatoes” because they have little to no room to move freely
  • Wild-caught Alaskan salmon have a more complete nutritional profile because they’re not given artificial feed laced with hormones and additives. This results in higher amounts of:
    • Micronutrients
    • Healthy fats, especially a good ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats
    • Minerals
    • Vitamins
    • Antioxidants like astaxanthin

You can also opt for fish like sardines, anchovies, or herring for variety. A rule of thumb is to choose fish with shorter life cycles and reside at the bottom of the food chain. Not only are they better alternatives when it comes to fat content, but there’s a good chance these fish might not be contaminated as well.

Don’t Be Afraid to Add Fish to Your Diet

An ideal diet that boosts your health contains high amounts of healthy fats, moderate portions of high-quality, grass-fed protein and unlimited quantities of fresh and organically grown fruits and vegetables. When you consume the right types of fish, you hit two birds with one stone, because these fish are abundant in both healthy fats and protein.

Because of these healthy fats and protein in fish, it’s a great food for people who wish to incorporate intermittent fasting into their daily activities. Intermittent fasting is a lifestyle choice where you limit your eating time to a six- to eight-hour window, while fasting for the remainder of the day. Apart from weight loss, intermittent fasting actually helps:

  • Lower LDL and total cholesterol levels
  • Improve insulin and leptin levels and sensitivity
  • Control inflammation and lessen oxidative stress and cellular damage
  • Boost immune system function
  • Maintain ghrelin (“hunger hormone levels”)
  • Aid in removing sugar cravings as it helps your body switch to burning fat instead of sugar

The problem of contaminated, farmed fish remains troubling, but it doesn’t mean you should deprive yourself of something that can benefit your health. By looking out for the best high-quality and healthy fish you can find, you could reap the benefits of a high fish diet.

To learn about the benefits of a high fish diet and how to avoid the harmful materials that may come with it, read “If You Choose Wisely, the Benefits of a High Fish Diet Can Still Outweigh the Risks Associated With Mercury Contamination.”