Seafood Survival Guide

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SEAFOOD SURVIVAL GUIDE

Guide to Buying Toxin-Free Fish

For the health conscious community, we all strive towards attaining a healthy diet, and seafood has a reputation for being an excellent source of clean protein and a rich source of omega-3’s. Consuming fish can help cure diseases of the heart, prevent strokes and even be helpful for cancer patients. But there is a growing concern about the toxins in locally sourced and imported fish. Because our ocean waters and lakes are polluted, some of these pollutants are creating the presence of toxins in fish. Plastic waste is largely to blame for this. Now more than ever, consumers are looking more into food safety, and what it really means to eat a fish raised in sustainable environments. 

What Toxins can be Found in Fish?

A large concern of the fishing industry today is the rising levels of toxins that burden seafood sold into market. Similar to humans and other mammals, toxins bioaccumulate in the fish’s fatty tissues, building up over time. These toxins cause damage to the fish’s cells, and cause many different health issues. When humans eat fish contaminated with toxins, we experience the same reaction. The chemicals we consume are absorbed into our bodies, causing adverse health effects. 

Heavy metals are naturally occurring compounds in the environment that become toxic in high amounts. Mercury, Lead and Arsenic are three of the most common heavy metals found in seafood. Mercury in high concentrations can damage the nervous system and cause harm to the brain by disrupting its many functions. Arsenic in high concentrations can cause cognitive and developmental issues in children and infants. Lead in high concentrations can be extremely neurologically harmful to adults and children. All three of these heavy metals can also be incredibly dangerous to pregnant women due to the scientific evidence on the effects they have on the endocrine and reproductive system. Dioxins are by-products of industrial processes as well as household fires and are found in fish as well. Because of this, every living creature, including us, has been exposed to dioxins. In large quantities, it can be dangerous. The most common problem caused by dioxins is chloracne, a skin disease with acne-like symptoms that happen on the face and upper body. Besides chloracne, dioxins can cause a number of other skin related illnesses. PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyls) are one of the most concerning toxins found in fish. It is a pollutant, which is created mostly in the production of electrical equipment. It has been known to have carcinogenic effects on humans. PBDE’s (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) are produced by fire retardant chemicals used in industrial processes and are found in fish. These toxins can harm the brain functions of babies and young children, and can furthermore, have long-lasting effects like cancer and liver dysfunction. 

What Types of Fish are Safest to Eat?

There are a few important factors to consider in deciding what seafood to choose to bring home, but they all boil down to one concept: sustainably. How and where the fish was caught and raised, and the pollution levels of the body of water are the most crucial considerations. The top rated fish that are the least commonly contaminated include sardines, Pacific cod, Dover sole, Alaskan and Pacific halibut, red mullet, and cold water tilapia. Here are some quick tips that will help you choose the safest seafood.

  • Check the country-of-origin labels on the fish to ensure it comes from a well-regulated source. For example, seafood that’s sourced from China is usually not the safest choice due to the extreme pollution levels there. Checking labels will help you determine what the harvesting method was and if a fish was wild-caught, farm-raised, or commercially-caught.

  • Avoid freshwater fish from lakes and rivers. The smaller the body of the water, the greater the risk of contamination. Aim to choose fish from the Pacific Ocean, Alaska, and remote islands. 

  • Think small. Choose smaller species such as sardines, anchovies, salmon, and sole. Larger predatory fish accumulate more toxins because of their bigger body mass and fatty tissues. 

  • Be cautious when it comes to shellfish. This type of seafood is more contaminated because they’re sourced from coastal waters that are often heavily polluted.

  • Avoid canned fish, unless the packaging specifies it’s BPA-free and sustainably caught. Chemicals from the packaging and processing facilities often leak into the fish, contaminating it. 

  • When preparing seafood at home, cutting off all the fatty bits and removing the skin after cooking can actually remove some of the toxins in the fish. Grilling and roasting fish with a lower heat on a rack will allow the fat to drip away as well. 


    Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5