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Expert Explains How To Safely Eat Fish And Avoid Health Risks Associated With Mercury

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Fish is a healthy source of omega-3 fatty acids, which support heart health, reduce inflammation, and enhance brain function. It is a high-quality protein source, which helps promote muscle development and provides energy to the body. Additionally, it contains various minerals, including iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium, and potassium, which contribute to overall well-being.

However, most fish contain some amount of mercury, a toxic metal linked to serious health problems, according to Harvard Health Publishing. So, how do you safely consume fish items and still steer clear of mercury? G Sushma, Clinical Dietician, CARE Hospitals, Banjara Hills, Hyderabad, shared insights.

Also Read: 8 Pros And Cons Of Consuming Fish And Healthy Ways To Incorporate It In Your Diet

Mercury In Fish

According to a study published in the journal Toxics, seafood, particularly fish, are the main source of human exposure to methylmercury (MeHg).

While eating fish is generally considered safe and beneficial, elevated levels of mercury in certain species may pose health risks, especially for pregnant women and young children.

In the study, researchers found mercury in all tested fish, with tuna having the highest content. While the levels didn’t violate food safety limits, the amount in tuna exceeded a health risk threshold, suggesting that frequent tuna consumption could prove hazardous.

High exposure to mercury can lead to fatigue, muscle weakness, and dizziness and damage organs like the kidneys and liver, as per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, which adds that chronic low-level exposure to methylmercury may also impair brain function.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends eating 2-3 servings of a variety of cooked fish, or about 8–12 ounces, in a week. For children, two servings of fish per week from a variety of fish are recommended, with portion sizes smaller than adult portions.

Choose Your Fish Wisely

When it comes to avoiding mercury in fish, it is important to choose your fish carefully.

Sushma said, “Opt for fish that are known to have lower mercury levels. Examples include salmon, sardines, trout, and tilapia.”

She added, “Avoid or limit consumption of high-mercury fish, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.” These, according to the dietician, are predatory fish that tend to accumulate more mercury because they consume smaller fish.

Harvard Health Publishing explained, “As small fish are eaten by larger fish up the food chain, concentrations of mercury and Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) increase, so that large, predatory deep-ocean fish tend to contain the highest levels.”

Therefore, it is advised to choose smaller species and those lower on the food chain.

Tips To Consume Fish Safely

According to Sushma, selecting fish from a variety of species helps reduce the risk of consistently ingesting high levels of mercury from a single source.

Additionally, if you’re concerned about mercury, it’s generally advisable to avoid raw fish, as cooking can help reduce the presence of contaminants. Other safety tips include:

Pay attention to where the fish come from. Fish from clean, well-managed waters tend to have lower mercury levels. Be cautious about fish caught in polluted or contaminated areas.

Also Read: 8 Superfoods To Avoid Vitamin D Deficiency This Winter

Be aware of local advisories and guidelines regarding fish consumption. Government health departments often provide information on fish that may have higher mercury levels in specific regions.

Mercury tends to accumulate in the fatty tissues and skin of fish. Trimming these parts before cooking can help reduce your exposure.

Since pregnant women and young children are more vulnerable to the effects of mercury, they should be especially cautious and follow specific guidelines provided by health authorities.

Additionally, always consult with your healthcare provider for personalised advice, especially if you have specific health concerns or conditions, advised Sushma.

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