Smartest Seafood Choices
Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved seafood. From shellfish to mollusks to mackrel to trout, I loved and ate it all. Seafood tastes good, looks appealing and there’s no doubt that it has tons of health benefits. Seafood is an excellent source of protein, has tons of super beneficial minerals like selenium (super potent antioxidant), phosphorus (helps maintain strong bones) and iodine (which helps regulate your thyroid to keep a healthy metabolism). Seafood is also a great source of omega-3’s; studies have shown that marine derived omega-3’s are associated with improved heart and brain functioning as well as reduced risk of hearing loss.
But troubling reports about seafood safety have led many people, myself included, to drastically limit our seafood consumption. The oceans, lakes, and rivers which most of our fish call home have been severely polluted by industrial operations. Mercury and poisons (dioxins) from industrial sources have made their way into our waterways and have been absorbed by sea creatures in their muscles. And when a smaller fish that contains mercury and dioxins gets eaten by a larger fish the toxicity accumulates eventually making its way to our dinner table. Some fish contain such high levels that it poses serious risks to brain and nervous system development in unborn babies and young children.
Ethical questions about the farming and fishing practices have been raised as well. Some species are dying off rapidly because of harvesting pressures and techniques. The seafood Americans eat is about 90% imported which has led to the oceanic resources of some impoverished nations to be depleted through overfishing. This problem is made even more preposterous by the fact that our nation exports one-third of its catch to other countries for high prices. This has led to a decrease in emphasis of utilizing American domestic waterways and ocean fronts as food sources, and we instead relegate them to mere dumping grounds. To help reverse this trend, there are some good seafood choices that one can make, to help shape fishing practice through the economics of demand.
Americans love shrimp and we eat about 4 pounds of it per person annually. What you may not know is that most of the shrimp we eat in the US comes from Asian farms that may overuse antibiotics and exploit their laborers. Some methods of shrimp fishing can be extremely destructive—otter trawls are known to damage the ocean floor, often catching and killing endangered species in the process which has a very destructive impact on the environment.
So if you love shrimp, opt for domestic shrimp. North American wild-caught varieties such as northern shrimp, pink shrimp and spot prawns are a good choice. Another good option is white shrimp farmed in the United States, Canada and Central America which are farmed in closed tanks that create less pollution and have much stricter regulations.
On the whole, freshwater shrimp tend to be more sustainably farmed or caught than ocean shrimp. To purchase accordingly, you can look for certain labels: independent regulatory groups will slap labels on shrimp they approve of, so look around for names like the Marine Stewardship Council, Aquaculture Stewardship Council, and Naturland. Unfortunately, the USDA does not have official organic standards for seafood, so any label that claims the seafood is organic has no legal backing or accountability and therefore no one is checking if it’s true or not.
Stay away from canned tuna. Most canned tuna is from large white albacore tuna, which ingest more mercury in their diet than smaller skipjack light tuna. Imported tuna from foreign waters often use methods that have high levels of by-catch and even if it says “dolphin safe” does not mean that other marine animals were not harmed. Let’s not forget about the fact that cans (in general) are lined with BPA and BPA is a hormone-mimicking compound that has been linked to a variety of health issues.
So, if you love tuna, seek out the skipjack light tuna or line caught tuna and make sure that it comes in BPA-free pouches instead of cans.
Not only are mussels delicious in a nice white wine broth or coconut milk, but they are very good for you. An excellent source of protein, selenium, manganese and omega-3’s, they also provide a good dose of B12.
Most mussels you can buy are farmed, which in this case, is a good thing. When suspended in waterways mussels actually feed by filtering plankton and require no additional supplemental food so they actually improve surrounding water quality. Mussels also respond well to high-density farming and very rarely require antibiotics.
Unfortunately, sardines have suffered greatly from overfishing. In fact, it’s illegal to commercial fish for sardines in the west coast. However, a few companies have done it right and created sustainable, well-managed fisheries with negligible by-catch and habitat damage.
Trout is one of the most affordable fish and it packs a lot of punch in terms of healthy fats and phosphorus, an important mineral for cell membranes and healthy bones. Its nutritional pay off also comes with very few contaminants, considering that it was most likely farmed. The land based tanks and “raceways” employed by North American trout farmers cause fewer of the environmental concerns that farmed salmon has been famous for.
Atlantic Mackerel is a rich tasting, delicious fish that has all your protein, B vitamins and vitamin D which is associated with a lower cancer risk. Atlantic Mackerel is a smaller species of mackerel and has a lot less mercury than its cousin. The wild Atlantic fishery in North America is well managed and the industry practices sustainable harvesting measures that allow the fish to remain abundant. Look for ready-to-go BPA free packages of smoked fillets. They can be worked into any meal for a flavorful nutritious punch.
The most important thing to do is do your research. Know where your fish comes from and the industry practices. Never eat fish that has been pre-processed, battered or breaded because the source of the fish is rarely listed and isn’t legally required to do so.
Here is some fish that you should NEVER eat.
Chilean Sea Bass
Imported King Crab
Atlantic Bluefin Tuna
(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/docrep/008/y6634e/y6634e04.htm
Seafood Watch - Official Site of the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Sustainable Seafood Program. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.seafoodwatch.org/
Why Don't We Eat Our Own Fish? (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2014/07/24/greenberg-fish-import