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Eating Fish - Healthy, or Toxic?

FDA releases guidelines for avoiding mercury in fish


Updated March 22, 2004

Updated March 22, 2004
By DrRich

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration released its long-awaited guidelines on avoiding mercury toxicity when eating fish.

During the past few years, several studies have shown that, probably due to the omega-3 fatty acids contained in fish, eating fish can benefit the heart. The American Heart Association, accordingly, recommends that people eat fish at least twice a week - and more than that if you've got heart disease.

However, pollution has sufficiently contaminated water resources with mercury that some fish (usually larger fish who get that way by dining on smaller mercury-containing fish) concentrate enough mercury in their bodies to pose a health hazard to some people. Thus, consumer groups have been pressuring the government to provide guidelines for eating enough fish to help the heart, without eating so much as to pose a health hazard.

The new FDA guidelines were released in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency. They recommend that pregnant women and young children should avoid eating the kinds of fish that are likely to be high in mercury. These high-mercury fish - including shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish - should not be consumed at all by pregnant women and young children.

However, the guidelines recommend eating other varieties of fish, known to be low in mercury, twice a week. These fish include shrimp, light canned tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish. The light canned tuna is preferred over the albacore because the albacore tuna are larger and contain more mercury. Most fish sandwiches and fish sticks contain pollock. Pregnant women and children, according to the guidelines, can (and ought to) consume these low-mercury fish twice a week like any other people.

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