Monday, July 14, 2008

FISH - To Eat or not To Eat (Part II)

The HEALTH ASPECT of eating Fish:

It is not uncommon for family doctors to advise us to exercise moderation in our eating habits in view of the rapid rise of diet-related diseases viz; heart diseases, high-blood pressure, kidney failure, diabetes, etc. In nine out of ten such cases, the advice is to reduce on the intake of meats especially red meats (beef and mutton) and to consume more green vegetables and fresh fruits. At the very best, they would also recommend that white meats such as chicken and fish fare better as they are less high in cholesterols and saturated fats.

Since I am still on the subject, we will spend a little time to check on the role of fish in a person's diet and will also include other aquatic inhabitants e.g. shell fish and crustaceans as they too dwell in the watery world and are a source of food for many of us.

To be fair, I am not here to disparage those of us who are partaking meat. What's more important here is for us to raise some awareness on the health benefits and the hazards in
our food source.

Without a doubt, fish is a good source of protein and some are especially rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which cannot be manufactured by the body. Also known as polyunsaturated fatty-acids, it plays an important role in brain functions as well as for normal growth and development. They also help to retard and protect against heart diseases and strokes.

However, studies in recent years have shown that people have actually decreased fish in their daily diet mainly due to the high levels of MERCURY found in fish and shellfish. Mercury is a non-biodegradeble metal found in volcanoes, forest fires, bed rocks and even in undersea vents. Human beings are also guilty in their contribution via technological usage of this element in gold mining activities, production of chlorine gas,manufacturing of thermometers, batteries and even in dental fillings. How many of us (the older generation) are walking around with a mouthful of this toxin, is anybody's guess.

One released, mercury stays in the environment and when it is combined with carbon, form organic methylmercury - and it is this form that has raised strong health concerns among scientists and nutritionists who are now caught between the benefits and hazards of a fishy diet!

It is far too complicated to fully explain how this form of organic mercury gets into the fish but suffice it to say, it is found in all fish, shell-fish and crustaceans viz: oysters, clams, cockles, prawns, lobsters, crabs, etc. whether they are from the ocean or reared in commercial farms. Fishes absorb this toxin through their gills and also when they feed on aquatic organisms. The contaminating culprits, other than mercury also include toxic chemical wastes that may leach into waterways such as lakes, rivers, ponds and finally the ocean. The toxins in these areas inadvertently travel up the food chain and the eco-systems and onto our dining tables.

MERCURY is not good news for us - especially for pregnant ladies and those about to start a family. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) disclosed that women who ate fish twice a week have blood mercury concentrations that were SEVEN TIMES HIGHER than those who didn't eat fish. MERCURY is known to cause health problems such as brain damage, memory loss and causes fatal birth defects to developing fetus. Another study showed that babies born to mothers who regularly eat fish are more likely to be less active at birth and have smaller head size on top of developmental problems. Women who have high levels of mercury in their bodies may also experience difficulty in conceiving.

We can sum up this debate and see for ourselves that the pros outweigh the cons in the inclusion of fish in our diet. Doctors can only advise and cannot make the decision for us. The onus is on us - whether we value our health and those of our loved ones or the urge to satify our appetite overrules the rationale of a safer diet. Our lives are in our hands... treat with care. In all things, MODERATION is the key. I, for one, always believe that "LESS IS BEST".

The next time you visit a seafood restaurant, take a little time and check out the fishes,
prawns, crabs, lobsters on display in the tanks, all ready for the table... you may want to change your mind and skip having them in your meal.

For those of us who wish to take a stand and refrain from fish - you need not worry that it is the only source of essential fatty acids. Plant-based foods such as nuts, whole grains, flax seeds, fresh fruits/ vegetables and olive oil provide a healthier supply of the same.

NOTE: Please also read PART I on this subject for the ECOLOGICAL and ETHICAL aspects in an earlier posting.



chris.d.hodge said...

Safe seafood is available though! For the first time there is a company that doesn’t rely on only the age of the fish caught to claim that it is lower in mercury than FDA action levels. Safe Harbor guarantees that the fish it certifies is lower than FDA action levels because it tests every large fin fish released under the Safe Harbor brand. For the first time I am 100% confident about the safety of the seafood I eat and buy for my family. All their mercury certification levels are available online, along with details about their testing process and where their product is available at
Check them out and enjoy the health benefits of seafood without worry!

Greensleeves said...

Hi Chris,
Tks much much for the info... we certainly would like to have more 'responsible' businesses out there... our very lives depend on them. Hopefully, Safe Harbor also practises ethical fishing methods.