Did you know October is National Seafood Month? This is a great time to dive in and learn more about the health benefits of eating seafood. However, many people are hesitant to eat seafood due to potential mercury content, but it’s important to know how mercury and seafood are related and which types are smart choices for you.
What exactly is mercury and why is it an issue? Mercury is a type of metal that can be toxic in large quantities to humans and other living beings. High exposure to mercury causes damage to the nervous system and can also impact the immune system, the gut, and other organs.
How do I know which seafood is high in mercury? Nearly all seafood contains traces of mercury. Larger, deep-water, predatory fish—such as shark, swordfish, and king mackerel—have the highest mercury levels because they eat smaller fish.2No cooking methods will not get rid of mercury in food. Some of the most widely consumed seafoods that are low in mercury include shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish.2
Are there any groups of people that shouldn’t eat seafood? Aside form individuals with seafood allergies, seafood is a great protein option for everyone, even pregnant women. Consumption of seafood during pregnancy is often a concern because developing fetuses are more susceptible to the effects of mercury consumption. Because of this, pregnant women should be more cognizant of their seafood choices and sources.1But overall, seafood, especially fatty fish like salmon, is very beneficial for a baby’s development.
How much seafood should we eat? According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it is recommended to consume approximately 8 ounces of seafood per week.3One of the best ways to incorporate seafood in your diet is to simply replace your usual animal proteins with seafood. Be sure to keep relatively inexpensive seafood products on hand for easy access. This includes canned fish like tuna and sardines, and frozen goods like salmon and cod. (Pro tip: look out for the pre-marinated frozen products for quick and delicious seafood meals.)
Regularly eating seafood offers a variety of health benefits. Seafood is a great protein source that can greatly aid in recovery after physical activity. Another health benefit includes being a rich source of healthy fats that can improve and maintain heart and brain health. Some seafood, such as oysters and shrimp, are high in zinc which can promote a stronger immune system and even improve your mood and overall mental health.
As long as you avoid the larger fish mentioned above, the health benefits of eating fish far outweigh the risks of mercury.