Should You Eat Fish?
I’ve never been one for labels but many call themselves vegetarians when they eat fish once in a while. It’s not because they are dishonest or because they are holier than thou. But in a many parts of the country, a vegetarian is an understandable term while a pescatarian is still unclear. That’s why I stick with the term plant-based diet: someone who eats plant-based ingredients most of the time. But is eating fish really that bad for your health? Let’s take a closer look.
Fish aren’t a simple issue. We don’t sympathize with them in the way that we do mammals and they do have some inherent health benefits. But there’s much more to the picture. Steady pollution in the world’s waters has not only meant endangering aquatic life, but also the people that eat them.
Fish can be contaminated with pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, mercury, PCBs, dioxins, and pharmaceuticals just to name a few. These poisons bioaccumulate in the fat cells of fish and then we ingest them. The larger the fish, the more dangerous because not only have they accumulated chemicals through being in dirty waters, they have also eaten fish that were already contaminated.
Mercury is the most widely known contaminate. High levels of the poison damage nerves in adults and disrupt development of the brain and nervous system of fetuses and young children.
Not to mention the environmental degradation that’s a product of commercial fishing. Fishing isn’t what you would day dream from the fishing villages of yesteryear. Rather, commercial fisheries track schools of fish using satellite tracking equipment and cover miles of oceans with gigantic nets trapping millions of animals as they go and killing dolphins and sea turtles amongst a host of other species. In order to avoid this devastating form of fishing, check out the Monterey Bay Seafood Guide to know what fish are the most sustainable in terms of overfishing and fishing methods.
Farmed fish are often raised in overcrowded enclosures leaving them infested with bacteria.
It means that if you eat fish you can’t be complacent about the fish you choose. Avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish as they have the highest levels of mercury. Buy local from smaller fisheries, or better yet, go fishing yourself. Check local advisories to avoid polluted water systems.
Eat small fatty fish, which still have the inherent health benefits like protein, low saturated fat, selenium, and omega 3 fatty acids, while being small enough not to bioaccumulate as many chemicals. Good choices are herring, sardines, and anchovies. If you choose to eat fish, make sure you take a closer look.