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This is one in a series of articles. For more on this subject visit The Daily Meal Special Report: Is Our Food Killing Us? Diet, Nutrition, and Health in 21st Century America.
Fish has long been associated with a healthy diet. It’s low in calories and rich in beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids. Whether we order fish off a restaurant menu or buy it at the fish market to cook at home, it is a popular and healthy meal choice. So, eat fish and be healthy, right? But there's a catch. Due to pollution and other environmental factors, some fish contain unhealthy amounts of mercury, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl), and parasites. In order to gain the health benefits of fish while avoiding the toxins and other dangers associated with it, it’s important to understand which types of fish we should be eating and how much is safe to eat.
How do toxins get into the fish? Chemical manufacturers and coal-burning industrial plants are the main source. These facilities release mercury into the air and rain washes it down into our rivers, lakes, and oceans, where interaction with anaerobic organisms converts it into methylmercury. Fish and shellfish absorb this toxin as they feed and it builds up in the tissue of the animal over time. Thus, the larger the fish, the higher its mercury content.
What are the risks to fish eaters from these substances? Methylmercury can damage the nervous system, immune system, and heart — but the greatest risk is to fetuses, infants, and young children. Pregnant or nursing woman who ingest even small amounts of mercury can pass on toxins to their fetus or infant. Children exposed to mercury in the womb or as an infant have been found to have altered memory, learning disabilities, lowered IQ, and impaired cognitive and nervous system functions in general.
PCBs are colorless, odorless chemicals that were once widely used in electrical equipment before they were banned in the U.S. in 1976. PCBs are highly stable and non-flammable, which made them popular for industrial purposes, but also means that they remain in the environment. About half of the 1.2 billion pounds of PCBs produced in the U.S. before 1976 are still present in air, land, and water — most of them in our rivers, lakes, and oceans.
PCBs settle into the sediments of bodies of water where bottom-feeding organisms ingest them and eventually transfer them to other the larger predator fish. PCBs have been found in fatty fish like lake trout, carp, and Chinook salmon with levels high enough to render these fish unsafe for human consumption in some cases. PCBs build up primarily in the fatty tissue of fish, leading to greater contamination in larger and fattier fish. Younger, leaner fish are safer. The health risks surrounding PCB include developmental problems in children, liver damage, and various forms of cancer. The highest risks are for fetuses and nursing infants.
The most prevalent source of PCBs today is thought to be farm-raised salmon. These salmon are fed with fish high in fish oil, with large amounts of fatty tissue, often full of PCBs. Some farmed salmon consume amounts of PCBs averaging five times the safe standard set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Based on these standards, the EPA recommends eating only one serving of farmed salmon per month.
According to FDA standards, “if you weigh 130 pounds, you should eat no more than four ounces of fish typically medium high in mercury (tuna, halibut, grouper, northern pike, bass) a week. If you weigh 170 pounds, then you can eat as much as 5.3 ounces a week.”
Jane M. Hightower, M.D., author of Diagnosis: Mercury, stresses that how much fish you may safely eat “depends on your weight, and the amount of mercury in the fish.”
“For the higher mercury fish such as swordfish, tile fish, king mackerel, and shark, you should not eat those at all if you are planning a pregnancy, are pregnant or nursing, or are a young child or infant,” Hightower adds. “For the rest of the population, these fish should not be consumed more than once per month.”
The American Heart Associated recommends that we eat at least two servings of fish per week, but recommends that pregnant and nursing women and young children should exchange shrimp, canned “light” tuna, Pollock, and catfish for fish high in mercury. (The FDA suggests that pregnant women and nursing women not cut out fish completely, as it contains important nutrients for a baby’s growth and brain development.)
On behalf of the Center for Science in the Public Interest and The Mercury Policy Project, an initiative of the Tides Center, Earthjustice filed a petition with the FDA in July 2011 to require signs in grocery stores and labels on packaged seafood products giving consumers information on the amounts of mercury in each product. To date, the FDA has failed to respond to the petition.
The FDA’s 2004 online advisory “What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish” warns pregnant women and heavy fish eaters about the dangers of mercury, but lacks information on healthy seafood choices and alternatives, updated science on methylmercury exposure risk, and does not reach the general public, especially those without internet access.
Parasites are the other main danger associated with eating fish, mainly raw fish, which has become popular in dishes like sushi, sashimi, ceviche, and carpaccio. Raw saltwater fish can be a carrier of Anisakis simplex, a parasitic roundworm that invades the gastrointestinal tract of humans. This can cause mild to serious complications often difficult to diagnose. Diphyllobothrium is a tapeworm that has been traced to raw freshwater salmon. Since salmon lives in both freshwater and saltwater environments, it is susceptible to both kinds of parasites. Although sushi is made mostly from saltwater fish, gravlax is commonly made from freshwater fish, but is generally considered safe if it has been properly salted and smoked, or cured in a heavy brine.
Mackerel, squid, fluke, porgy, and sea trout are common carriers of Anisakis parasites and should never be eaten completely raw. Shrimp, eel, and octopus are carriers as well. Don’t bother inspecting your raw fish for a worm before you eat it, as it’s often the larvae that are ingested. Herring, which was once commonly eaten raw in The Netherlands, is another carrier. Since an outbreak of parasite poisoning in the 1980s, however, all Dutch herring must now be gutted immediately, then salted and frozen at four degrees Celsius below zero within 12 hours of being caught and for 24 hours thereafter. Similar regulations have been promulgated by the FDA, whose "parasite destruction guarantee" helps ensure that raw fish is safe to eat. The FDA’s Food Code recommends these freezing techniques to retailers providing fish that is intended to be consumed raw, however the term “sushi grade” is simply a marketing tool, and doesn't imply any necessary adherence to FDA guidelines. Some private suppliers have set up their own procedures to ensure that their products are safe.
So, should we stop eating fish? No. Fish is healthy and you should eat it to obtain the multiple health benefits, plus it is a delicious component to any meal. But be sure the make informed decision on the types of fish to eat and how often.
Emily Jacobs is the Recipe editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyRecipes.
6 Tricks to Make Fish Taste Less Fishy (That Aren’t Frying)
If you've ever cooked fish at home, you're probably familiar with that unpleasant "fishy" taste seafood sometimes takes on. It can be enough to make anyone want to stop eating it altogether. But before quitting the salmon and tuna steaks, know that there are a few easy methods that help fish taste less fishy — so you can enjoy dinner and reap its benefits.
"Consuming fish is a great way to add lean protein and vitamins and minerals such as iodine, selenium and vitamin D, Michelle Routhenstein, RD, CDN, preventive cardiology dietitian and author of The Truly Easy Heart-Healthy Cookbook, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
"Choosing fatty fish like wild salmon, sardines, arctic char and rainbow trout add a boost of anti-inflammatory and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, as well," Routhenstein says.
This is especially important because the types of omega-3 fatty acids that you get from fish — EPA and DHA — aren't as abundant or available in other protein sources such as chicken, beef, pork or plant-based proteins, per the National Institutes of Health. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends eating two 3.5-ounce servings of fatty fish every week for this very reason.
Now that we know why we should eat fish, let's get back to the question at hand.
What Makes Fish Taste Fishy?
There's actually some science behind it. Fish in the ocean rely on a compound called trimethylamine oxide (TMAO) to counteract the saltiness of the ocean water and maintain fluid balance. However, when a fish dies, its TMAO is converted to trimethylamine (TMA), which produces that fishy odor, according to the American Society for Nutrition.
Find out how to make fish taste less fishy with these dietitian-approved tricks that actually work.
The Best White Fish Recipes (Also, What's White Fish?)
Health experts tell us we should be eating more fish. And we're all for it. We seek out salmon, trout, tuna, cod, halibut, and mackerel. But sometimes a recipe calls simply for "white fish." If you're not familiar with the family of fish called "white fish," the term refers to any white-fleshed fish like cod, tilapia, flounder, sole, halibut, snapper, catfish, haddock, and grouper. When cooked, the flesh of white fish is dry and flaky rather than oily and firm like salmon, mackerel, or tuna. A general category like white fish has its upside: When a recipe calls for "any type of white fish," it frees you to make choices at the market based on what's freshest or what's the better bargain (tilapia is typically an inexpensive choice). We love the versatility. Now, to confuse matters slightly, in rare cases, a recipe that calls for "whitefish" may be referring to a specific freshwater fish found in the Great Lakes, which is called "whitefish" and is often smoked. However, that's not really what we're talking about here. We're talking about the versatile, white-fleshed, non oily fish called out above. Here are some of our best white fish recipes.
Rachel shares her insights into why, as a nation, we don't eat enough fish. She also provides some great cooking tips and shares some simple yet delicious recipes. Jim talks about the importance of sustainability and why eating seasonally and locally is key.
He also talks about the importance of traceability and why the local fishmonger can provide you with all the knowledge you need. Also, find out why Rachel and Rosalind will be visiting Jim in the near future.
Nick Nairn is back with his tip on how to cook fresh mussels, whilst in Rosalind's kitchen she serves up some hand-dived scallops delivered by the Ethical Shellfish Company and a Bloody Mary.
Why is Tilapia so Unhealthy?
There are a few reasons why someone might avoid eating tilapia. Depending on where it’s sourced, fish can either be detrimental to your health, or a relatively healthy option for those who choose to consume animal-based protein.
1. Wild vs. Farm-Raised Fish
There is a huge difference between fish that are caught in the wild, versus farm-raised fish. The unfortunate thing about all this is that the fish you buy in the supermarket is usually farm-raised. This includes fish like salmon, tilapia, carp, swai, catfish, sea bass, and cod.
Wild fish have access to their natural food sources like wild plant life, bugs, and other small fish. Farm-raised fish only have access to what they are being fed. In some cases, that is the feces from farm animals like chickens, or pig and duck waste. I’ll talk more about this in another point below.
Farm-bred fish have also been found to have high concentrations of antibiotics and pesticides. You definitely don’t come across these problems in wild fish (unfortunately, wild populations are being tainted). Crowded conditions in fish farms make them more susceptible to disease, so to keep them alive, farm owners give antibiotics to fish to keep disease at bay.
Pesticides used on farm-bred fish like Chinese tilapia are so deadly that they’ve been known to kill populations of wild salmon that are exposed to them. Of course, these pesticides not only kill off wild salmon populations, but they infect the bodies of other marine life. The dwindling of salmon populations have left orca pods hungry and dying, as was the case with one orca mother who carried her dead calf for over 16 days.
2. Negative Environmental Impact
Tilapia, in particular, is an ideal fish for farming, because it doesn’t mind growing in crowded spaces, it grows quickly, and is quite adaptable. Because of this, some farming practices have gone a little over-board when it comes to growing fish for profit.
According to environmentalists, intensive and unregulated tilapia farming is damaging delicate ecosystems in poor countries with practices “generally prohibited” in the United States (1). When a large number of fish are bred in small cages in natural lakes, fish waste pollutes the water. Such was the case at Lake Apoyo in Nicaragua, where pollution from fish farms killed off the aquatic plants, leaving the lake a wasteland.
Dr. Jeffery McCrary, an American fish biologist who works in Nicaragua, told the New York Times, “We wouldn’t allow tilapia to be farmed in the United States the way they are farmed [in Nicaragua], so why are we willing to eat them?” He said. “We are exporting the environmental damage caused by our appetites.”
Waste from fish farms and uneaten feed litter the sea floor beneath these farms, which generates bacteria that consume oxygen required by bottom-dwelling sea creatures. The waste generated by fish farms promotes algal growth, harming the water’s oxygen content, and posing risks to coral reefs and other aquatic life (2).
3. Pumped Full of Hormones
Why is tilapia so unhealthy? Another reason is because almost all tilapia sold in America is pumped full of hormones. Tilapia and other farmed fish are fed methyltestosterone during the early, sexless stage of life so that they’ll grow bigger and quicker. Growing reproductive organs takes up a lot of energy. By by-passing this stage of life, they don’t expend energy developing reproductive organs, and they require less food.
By consuming fish that have been pumped with methyltestosterone, we’re also getting a portion of that drug when we eat said fish. Methyltestosterone has been associated with liver damage (3), and has even been taken off the market in Germany due to its high potential for liver toxicity.
4. Poor Diets
As mentioned above, tilapia and other farm-raised fish are commonly fed a diet of feces from farm animals. You read that right. Research from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future revealed how some disease-ridden fish farms in Asia are fed a cheaper alternative of farm feces. In defense, the FDA vehemently denied that this was the case. But if less than 3 percent of imported seafood shipments from Asia are actually tested for contamination (4), then how would they actually know? Experts worry about the large amounts of antibiotics given to fish who consume feces, not only for human health, but for the fact that it may give rise to antibiotic-resistant strains of salmonella.
5. Full of Inflammatory Fats
People who are into the concept of consuming fish for health, are usually doing it for the omega-3 fatty acid benefits. However, the omega-3 fatty acids found in farm-raised fish are usually less usable in our bodies compared to wild fish. In addition to this, the concentration of omega-6 fatty acids in caged fish is much higher, as they have less room to move around and tend to be fattier.
Recent studies have shown that eating tilapia may actually worsen inflammation in the body. This is because the omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid ratio is totally off balance. There are much more omega-6s than omega-3s in tilapia. The Wake Forest University study found that the inflammatory potential of tilapia is worse than that of a hamburger or bacon, therefore making it a fish you should definitely not eat (5).
6. Heavy Metals
Heavy metals are another concern when it comes to eating fish. One study found that one-fourth of the commercially fished tilapia in Lake Managua, Nicaragua, exceeded maximum recommended mercury levels for consumption among pregnant women and other at-risk groups (6). As a result, the study recommended there by closer heavy metal monitoring of imported freshwater fish.
7. Mixing of Gene Pools in Wild Populations
Farmed fish also escape and cross-breed with wild populations. Research has shown that these hybrid-born fish are less healthy, and die sooner than their wild counterparts. With enough cross-breeding, entire gene pools could be erased from the wild populations.
In addition to this, you might not really know what you’re getting in the grocery store when you’re purchasing wild fish. Maybe the ‘wild’ North Atlantic salmon that you purchase may actually be a farmed escapee. There is really no way of knowing.
Perhaps this answered your question of “why is tilapia so unhealthy?”. There are many reasons, but only you can make the best judgement. Remember – if you eat fish, eat wild varieties only. If you’re a big salmon fan, always go for Pacific or Alaskan salmon – these fish are almost always wild caught. If it’s Atlantic salmon, it is almost always farm-raised. As for tilapia? Avoid it altogether (unless it’s wild, that is – but finding wild tilapia will be quite difficult).
Should we stop eating fish
Foodstuffs can become contaminated with certain chemicals present in the environment as for instance mercury and even arsenic normally used in certain industrial processes. According with the Spanish onsumers
Association the levels detected in a recent survey are not a worry and the consumer does not run a risk as long as the dose absorbed is not exceeded.
It is the presence of mercury in various types of fish that makes food safety watchdogs ring their bells. The most sensitive consumers (children & pregnant women) are advised to limit the consumption of certain kinds of fish, but they should not eliminate them completely.
The Food Safety Agency (AESAN) has detected the presence of mercury in different varieties of fish. Mercury is a heavy metal that can be very toxic it is naturally present in the ground, in water, plants and animal organisms, but the real threat comes from the large amount of industrial waste released in the environment by mankind. The residue of such waste passes on to the fish food chain and the larger, the more predatory the fish the greater is the accumulation of the toxic material.
The level of mercury toxicity depends on the chemical form in which it is found because some of the components of mercury are more toxic tan the metal itself. According to The World Health Organisation, methylmercury is one of the 6 chemicals most present in the environment.
Mercury can induce some toxic effects on the system and on certain organs such as the nervous system, kidneys, reproductive organs however the greatest risk is in neurotoxicity of the nervous system. The presence of mercury in fish is a real problem. The Italian Consumers Association has carried out a recent research concluding that 20% of all samples analyzed exceeded the acceptable limits of mercury. As a result the European Commission and the members States agreed that it is now necessary to make certain recommendations with regards to the consumption of fish especially for consumers most susceptible to this metal.
Fish is an absolute necessity to maintain a balanced diet. A diet that comprises fish and seafood contributes to maintain a level of cardiovascular health furthermore it is good for children&rsquos growth because it provides some proteins of high biological value, vitamins A, D & B12 plus iodine and selenium. It is indisputable that fish is indispensable to our diet, the answer lies in alternating the type of fish we eat of course those who are more at risk should be sensible enough and avoid eating certain fish.
How to Safely Eat Pufferfish, According to a Chef Who Cooks It
Despite the Russian roulette stereotype, people rarely fall ill in restaurants, chef Wakisaka Nobuyuki tells us.
If you’ve never heard about the dangers of eating pufferfish, they’re more than just urban legend. Although routinely served at restaurants across Japan, their poison is so potent that chefs have to take a national written and practical examination just to be able to cook it.
We spoke with one of these chefs, Wakisaka Nobuyuki, who’s been cooking pufferfishlled fugu in Japanese𠅏or over twenty years. At his Hagi Honjin Ryokan in seaside Hagi, Japan, the fish is used for sashimi, fugu chiri—fugu hotpot, not unlike shabu shabu𠅊nd even as garnish for sake: The charred fin, a tiny blackened thing, is steeped in a steaming hot mug of sake, which is then lit on fire tableside. The fumes intensify the drinking experience, preserved by keeping a lid on the drink throughout the meal. The resulting concoction tastes ever so slightly of ocean, and makes the sake savory, almost broth-like. (Make no mistake, however, it will knock you out.) It’s called hire sake, or huku hire sake in local dialect—fugu is called huku here. Fugu roe is also used to make tofu, resulting in a denser, starchier tofu than one might normally expect. (Amazingly, it looks white just like standard tofu.)
Hagi Honjin Ryokan is located in the Yamaguchi prefecture—one of three Japanese prefectures known for its fugu production, with Osaka and Ōita being the other two. While 95% of the country’s fugu is actually farmed, a scant 5% is wild caught. And the price tag will usually tell you which is which. Wild caught fugu is four to five times more expensive, Nobuyuki estimates, with fifteen pieces of sashimi running about 4,000 or 5,000 yen (37 to 47 dollars). At his restaurant, we enjoyed the wild-caught variety.
3) Tilapia Could Cause Alzheimer’s and Cancer
Tilapia can carry up to 10 times the amount of carcinogens as other farm raised fish. This is because of the “food” the farmers typically feed the fish is — feces, pesticides, and industrial-grade chemicals.
Additionally, the fish may contain high levels of arachidonic acid, which, in excess, has been linked to conditions like Alzheimer’s.
Related: How to Improve Brain Health and Reduce the Risk of Alzheimer’s
Why You Should Pretty Much Always Buy Frozen Fish
It seems counterintuitive, but when it comes to fish, opting for frozen is the best way to guarantee it's fresh.
I’m not really sure why, but a lot of us seem to be afraid of fish. We love eating it… in restaurants. But the idea of cooking it at home inspires terror. I think I have a very easy solution to that. AND, unless you live right next to the water your fish comes from, my solution will also get you the freshest fish possible.
Buy frozen fish. Always. Period.
I realize that may seem to contradict what I just said about 𠇏reshest,” but it really doesn’t. And here’s why. When you go to the store and see a fish display, most of that fish was frozen until defrosted at the store. And there’s no way to tell how or when the store defrosted it. Fish and seafood frozen at sea, moments after being caught and cleaned, and sold to you still frozen, allows you to decide when and how to defrost, right before you cook it. And that will provide you with remarkably fresh flavor and texture.
But this still doesn’t answer the r factor” question.
If you buy good quality frozen fish, either from a huge seller (Costco), or a grocery store you trust, or one of the new frozen fish shipped direct-to-you companies (like the wonderful Sitka Salmon Shares), you’ll have precut, pre-cleaned and trimmed, equally portioned fish. That takes care of three fears (how do I know what to buy, how do I tell if it’s fresh, and how do I portion it) right there.
And now for the big fear — the actual cooking. So, here’s the thing. Overcooked fish may not be perfect, but it’s still perfectly good. Undercooked fish is actually, in most cases, better. So the only trick to cooking fish fillets at home is: Cook it fast. You have cleaned, perfectly portioned fish fillets to work with, so the cooking will be a snap. Heat some oil, or butter and oil, in a nonstick pan, add in the seasoned fillet, gently turn it over after a minute or so and let it cook another minute or so. That is really all there is to it, just be sure to always err on the side of undercooked. And if it’s a thicker piece of fish, just add a minute or so to each side. Once you do this a few times, you’ll be a pro.
Another fear that this method will take care of: 𠇋ut the house will smell like fish!” No, it won’t. Cook a thin fillet fast, and all the house will smell like is… dinner!
THIS Kind Of Protein Could Be Causing Your Inflammation
The claim: Fresh off the heels of a study saying that a high-protein diet could have serious health consequences: The journal Nutrition reports that certain animal-based sources of the macronutrient could cause higher levels of inflammation than foods like legumes, nuts, and beans.
The research: Researchers at the University of Navarra in Spain recruited 96 obese adults to follow a reduced calorie diet consisting of either 30% or 15% protein for 8 weeks. Body composition measurements and blood samples were taken at the start and end of the study vegetable, meat, and fish protein intakes were recorded throughout. After 8 weeks, both groups lost nearly the same amount of weight and fat, but participants who got more of their protein from meat had higher levels of inflammation compared to participants who consumed mostly fish or plant-based sources of protein.
What it means: Inflammation contributes to a number of diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer. And meat contains several compounds that promote the detrimental process, like saturated fat and iron, says lead study author Patricia Lopez-Legarrea, a nutrition and food science researcher. During the cooking process, high-fat, high-protein animal foods also develop advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which contribute to inflammation and degenerative diseases like diabetes and atherosclerosis.
The bottom line: Researchers are cautious to make general recommendations, since their study was only performed on a small number of adults with metabolic syndrome. Still, it&rsquos a good idea to keep red meat consumption to twice a week or less, and to stick to leaner cuts (like sirloin, flank, or tenderloin steak ), suggests Lopez-Legarrea. &ldquoAnd indeed, we should make an effort to promote the intake of vegetable protein, mainly legumes,&rdquo she says. Veggie burger or falafel sandwich, anyone?