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Go Fish: Catch the Health Benefits

Seafood can be an important part of a balanced diet. It is a good source of high quality protein and other nutrients, and is low in fat. Many types of fish are also high in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. These are essential nutrients that help reduce the risk for heart attack, stroke, and mental decline. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish can help lower your blood pressure and heart rate and decrease your risk for heart disease. Fish is a good source of proteins for pregnancy. The American Heart Association recommends that Americans eat fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids twice a week.

However, some fish and shellfish contain high levels of a form of mercury called methylmercury that may harm an unborn baby's or young child's developing nervous system. Methylmercury occurs naturally in the environment and can also be released through industrial pollution.

The potential health risks from contaminated seafood depend on the mercury level in the particular seafood and the amount of seafood eaten. Other risk factors are age, weight, and gender. You should watch the kind and amount of fish you and your family eat, especially for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and young children.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the EPA recommend the following:

  1. Do not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury.

  2. Eat up to 12 ounces (two average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.

  3. Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. If no advice is available, eat up to six ounces (one average meal) per week of fish you catch from local waters, but don't consume any other fish during that week.

To get the most from fish and reduce your exposure to contaminants, follow these recommendations:

  • Cut back on how much you eat of shark, albacore tuna, and other fish known to be high in contaminants.

  • Eat a variety of fish. Not all seafood is high in mercury and PCBs, so varying the kinds of fish you eat will reduce your risk.

  • Fish and seafood low in mercury include shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.

  • Follow the advisories posted by the EPA.

  • Buy from a reputable seafood vendor. Consider the market’s overall cleanliness, appearance, and smell.

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