Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
18 May

Grocery Store Seafood: What to Eat and What to Avoid

fishmarketIn the comment section of last week’s post on farmed seafood, readers asked about the safety of regular, everyday seafood that you can find in any supermarket in the country – the popular, easily obtainable species that conventional supermarkets proudly display on ice, in frozen sections, and in cans and packets. Not crayfish, New Zealand green lipped mussels, and boutique tank raised Coho salmon, but tilapia, cod, and crab. They may not be ideal or as sexy as some of the species from last week, but they are common.

So – what’s common? To make this as objective and universal as possible, I’ll examine the ten most common seafoods consumed by Americans. As of 2009, they were, from most eaten to least eaten: shrimp, canned tuna, salmon, pollock, tilapia, catfish, crab, cod, clams, and pangasius. Shrimp I’ll cover in depth next week, catfish and clams were handled last week, and I covered farmed versus wild salmon a couple years ago, but what about the others? Which are worth eating? Which should be avoided?

Let’s take a look.

Tuna

The tuna is a big predatory fish, rather high up on the food chain. As such, it tends to accumulate heavy metals present in the food chain, with mercury being the most egregious of the bunch. Mercury in tuna gets a ton of bad press, not because it’s the worst offender – that honor is shared by shark, marlin, king mackerel, and a few other niche fish – but because it’s the second-most consumed fish in the nation, and small children and unborn fetuses are particularly vulnerable to it. You don’t see toddlers clamoring for king mackerel casserole, do you? It’s also affordable, comes in convenient cans, mixes well with mayo, tastes relatively mild (as opposed to canned sardines or mackerel), and is a staple for bodybuilders everywhere. It’s essentially really easy to eat a lot of canned tuna on a regular basis, so the relatively elevated levels of mercury in tuna are problematic.

There are many species of tuna with varying mercury contents. Canned white, or albacore, tuna has more mercury on average than canned light tuna, which is skipjack, tongol, or smaller yellowfin; pregnant women and small children are advised to eat no more than six ounces of the former or twelve ounces of the latter each week. To be on the safe side, I’d suggest those groups avoid the stuff altogether and maybe eat sardines, mackerel, or wild salmon for the omega-3s instead. Both canned varieties tend to have less mercury than tuna steaks or fillets, probably because larger (and thus, more mercury-rich) fish produce better steaks, while smaller fish work better in cans. Other types of fresh or frozen tuna you might run into include ahi, also known as yellowfin (longline caught yellowfin are larger and contain higher levels of mercury, while troll/pole-caught yellowfin are smaller and contain lower levels), and albacore, which is more expensive than ahi and milder.

Bottom line: Tuna is tasty, especially the steaks, and it’s a decent source of omega-3s, but the mercury content can’t be ignored. Avoid if you are pregnant, nursing, or a small child, and don’t make tuna of any kind a daily staple. Look for troll and pole-caught tuna over longline-caught tuna, as the former tend to run smaller and accumulate fewer contaminants than the latter. Also, Atlantic tuna seems to run with higher mercury content than Pacific tuna, regardless of species, with ahi/yellowfin running lower than albacore.

Salmon

Regular grocery store salmon is almost always of the farmed Atlantic variety, which happens to be the variety I already lambasted. Avoid it and stick with wild Alaskan salmon, the fisheries of which are extremely well managed and sustainable. There’s also wild Pacific salmon caught off the coasts of California, Washington, and Oregon, which I sometimes get at local farmers’ markets. I still like Alaskan sockeye salmon best, even the frozen stuff, but they’re all worth eating.

Bottom line: Eat wild salmon, which is a great source of protein, omega-3s, and selenium. Avoid farmed salmon (unless it’s that fancy tank-raised Coho salmon I mentioned last week).

Tilapia

Tilapia is fast-becoming a consumer favorite, for a few reasons. It’s cheap to raise. It isn’t carnivorous, meaning farmers can use corn and soy pellets without springing for comparatively pricey fishmeal. The fish’s vegetarianism also endears tilapia to those who worry about the state of wild fish stocks (a concern that, though I also share it, must be meted out against concerns about corn and soy subsidies). Parents and schools love it because it’s bland enough to feed to picky kids with dysfunctional industrial taste buds (just add ketchup). Plus, it’s technically fish and therefore “healthy,” meaning heart disease patients and hospitals can satisfy the AHA’s recommendations that folks eat at least two servings of fish a week by eating a few inexpensive, inoffensive tilapia fillets.

Don’t tell them that they aren’t getting much omega-3 out of it, though. According to the USDA nutrient database, tilapia contains very few omega-3 fatty acids at just 200 milligrams per 100 gram serving. In fact, that same 100 gram portion contains very few fatty acids in general – 800 mg saturated fat, 700 mg monounsaturated fat, and 200 mg omega-6 polyunsaturated fat. According to a recent study, however, tilapia has far more omega-6 than the database would suggest, with most of it coming as arachidonic acid (which admittedly isn’t as problematic as excessive dietary linoleic acid). Overall, it’s a lean fish, akin to chicken breast. I find it pretty inoffensive if uninteresting. It’s low in contaminants, inexpensive, and melds into any dish without asserting itself. Good as a cheap source of protein, but not as a source of unique marine nutrition.

Tilapia comes frozen, whole, live, or in fresh fillets. Most frozen tilapia comes from China or Taiwan, while fresh comes either from US or South/Central American farms. Live tilapia are US farmed, and pretty rare (go to Asian supermarkets for these). Asian tilapia is inexpensive, but the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch recommends against eating it very often due to poor farming conditions. Stick to US farmed tilapia if possible. South/Central American also gets good marks. Tilapia farming is fairly intensive, and caged tilapia raised in freshwater ponds can pollute surrounding waters, but standards seem to be changing for the better.

Bottom line: American and S/C. American tilapia is a safe source of protein, but it’s not a good source of omega-3s. If environmental impact matters, buy American. Avoid Asian imports (at least until the aforementioned farming standards are adopted worldwide).

Crab

Who doesn’t enjoy crab? Some might balk at the prospect of dismantling an exoskeleton for a modicum of interior meat, but it’s difficult to deny that the meat itself tastes great. But is regular, everyday grocery store crab safe to eat, let alone healthy? Yes. Dungeness, Alaskan king, snow, kona (also known as spanner or frog crab), and stone crab are all excellent choices. All are wild-caught – as a commenter pointed out last week, there are no commercial farmed crabs – and all are low in contaminants. They’re even harvesting crabs from the Thames in London and finding that they’re relatively low in toxins and metals.

Crab meat is lean, except when dipped in clarified butter, and it’s a good source of selenium, B-vitamins, and zinc. The shell isn’t edible, but it does make a fine stock, so be sure to save your shells.

The crab’s main internal organ, the hepatopancreas, is a delicacy also known as “crab mustard” or “crab butter.” It’s tasty, smooth, and high in fat, but it’s also where industrial contaminants tend to accumulate. In fact, one study (PDF) of blue crabs caught in the Newark Bay region of New Jersey found that the hepatopancreases contained astronomical levels of dioxins – over ten times as much as the muscle meat, enough that, in the authors’ opinion, regular consumption would drastically increase cancer incidence. This is an extreme example, not indicative of most crabs sold for food. Newark Bay blue crabs aren’t available in stores near you (or anywhere; they’re actually banned), and as a whole, blue crabs are relatively free of contaminants. Just be aware that the potential exists for toxin accumulation, especially in the hepatopancreas. I know you guys love slurping up the weird bits of the animals you eat, and the hepatopancreas is undoubtedly chock full of fat and micronutrients, so check your sources before guzzling crustacean digestive glands and viscera. If the waters are clean, you’re in the clear.

Bottom line: Go for it. Grocery store crabs are wild-caught, low in contaminants, and perfectly good to eat.

Cod, Pollock, and Haddock

Purists may disown me, but I’m grouping cod, pollock, and haddock together because they are extremely similar to the lay fish-eater: lean, white, firm, wild-caught fish that people confuse. Cod, pollock, and haddock are even leaner than tilapia and almost as mild, with firm flesh. They’re also wild caught as a rule, which makes for a very clean and contaminant-free fish. I’ve noticed that it’s getting more and more expensive, probably due to lowered worldwide fish stocks. Multiple seafood advisory groups have actually listed cod as endangered and a “poor choice” for regular eating, but not because it’s dangerous or unhealthy.

These fish are perfectly healthy, but they’re also fairly devoid of impressive nutrition, except for decent amounts of selenium and B-vitamins. Like tilapia, consider them sources of lean protein. If environmental concerns speak to you, go easy on it or stick to “bottom longline, jig, or trap” caught Pacific cod, as the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch recommends. You won’t be missing anything vital. All haddock seems acceptable, but Icelandic pollock trapped using Danish seines or trawls is apparently unsustainable.

If you can find them, canned cod livers are delicious, an excellent source (PDF) of vitamin A, vitamin D, and omega-3 fats, and far more interesting than regular cod fillets. Just be sure to buy livers canned in their own cod liver oil.

Bottom line: Healthy and low in contaminants, but sustainability may be an issue. Stick to Pacific cod, specifically bottom longline, jig, or trap caught Pacific cod, to minimize impact on wild fish stocks. Avoid Icelandic pollock caught using Danish seines or trawls. All haddock is good to go. None are strong sources of omega-3s.

Pangasius

Pangasius, which sells for cut-rate prices and hails from Vietnam, is an intensively farmed river catfish. Retailers often call it basa, or simply “catfish.” It runs lean and mild, contains very few omega-3s, absorbs all flavors, and works well as a canvas for batter and dipping sauce, making pangasius another one of those “fish for people who hate fish.” Whether it’s unsafe or not depends on who you ask – and it’s difficult to figure out who’s telling the truth. Domestic catfish farmers will say imported basa is raised in filthy Mekong river waters and pumped full of cheap feed and antibiotics, and that it isn’t even a true catfish; they also put out a television ad saying as much. The other side says the opposite. For what it’s worth, the Seafood Watch approves (though it prefers American catfish).

Bottom line: Pangasius is another bland, boring fish that may or may not be raised in horrid, unhealthy, polluted conditions. It’s probably safe, but is cheap protein worth the trouble? It might be.

Other Tips

  • Let your nose be the guide when shopping for fresh (or previously frozen, which often masquerades as “fresh fish”) fish at the supermarket. Don’t be shy; position your snout inches from the product and breathe deeply. You’ll know it when it’s bad, because the smell of bad fish is unmistakably and unavoidably putrid. Saltwater fish and shellfish may smell faintly of the sea, which is okay, but freshwater fish should be close to odorless.
  • Visit dedicated fish markets for fresh fish. There, the turnover rate is high and fish is usually fresh and of high quality. At most grocery stores, fish languishes on ice and doesn’t sell as quickly. Hardier meats like beef, pork, or whole chickens can handle a few days without the quality changing, but seafood quality goes downhill fast. If you have an Asian supermarket nearby, they’re also a good source of fresh seafood, since they serve a customer base that eats far more seafood than most Americans.
  • If you’re going to buy the “local catch of the day,” check the local fish consumption advisories for heavy metals and other contaminants using this tool.
  • Ask the fishmonger how the seafood was raised or, if wild, where it was caught and what method was used to catch it. Be wary of imported seafood from Asia.

I know I’ve missed a few examples of store-bought seafood in my attempt to be as universal as possible. Heck, I’ll probably hear it from non-US readers who feel left out, but I can take it. Lay it on me. Let me know what local offering I’ve missed (remember, I’ll bee covering shrimp next week) and I’ll try to get to them. Thanks for reading!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Thanks for the tips! Do we conclude that canned wild pink salmon is a viable option then? It is fairly cheap and easy to have on hand…

    Crunchy Pickle wrote on May 18th, 2011
    • I think about the worst thing you can expect from canned wild salmon is if the can is lined with BPA. If you can’t find any evidence that the canner *does not* use BPA lining, I’d keep consumption of canned fish to a minimum. But one thing about canned salmon (for those reading who might not know) is that it’s usually canned with some of the bones. Great source of calcium if you can stand the thought of eating bones. I haven’t managed it yet.

      Dana wrote on May 18th, 2011
      • The skin and bones in my alaskan canned salmon are my favorite part! The skin has lots of flavor and the bones are soft and crunchy at the same time. Yum. I do get it in BPA free cans.

        Nancy wrote on May 18th, 2011
        • Where do you get BPA free cans from? What brands? I’d eat more wild salmon in cans if I could find it in BPA free cans…

          Shema wrote on May 18th, 2011
        • Almost all canned salmon is wild caught. It will say so somewhere on the lable.

          Dave, RN wrote on May 18th, 2011
        • Vital Choice has BPA-free cans. I guess they had a problem with some non-BPA-free lids but are working to resolve that.

          Nancy wrote on May 18th, 2011
      • I am not keen on the texture of bones in my canned salmon either, so I just crush them up with the back of my fork and just mix everything together.
        If I recall correctly, if the cans are lined with vinyl, then BPA may be present. The salmon I buy does not have a white vinyl liner, so BPA is probably not there.

        Lila wrote on May 18th, 2011
        • I admire you folks who can enjoy crunchy fish… I’ve never been able to eat the bones in canned salmon even though I know they’re good for me. I think it triggers too many bad childhood memories of poorly filleted panfish :/

          MaryLouise wrote on May 18th, 2011
      • Dana, If you make Salmon Patties out of it, you’ll never even know the bones are there. Mash up the salmon really well (the bones are soft & easily crushed) with egg & some flax meal or other acceptable “binder” (almond flour would probably work). Add some dill, garlic, onions, whatever you like & mash it all up together & then form into patties & fry in butter or bacon grease til golden. I promise you can’t even tell the bones are in there. :)

        Keet wrote on May 19th, 2011
      • The bones in canned salmon are soft and yummy – give them a try!

        Maryanne wrote on May 19th, 2011
      • I’m afraid BPA-free doesn’t mean ‘safe’ – all plastic leaches stuff that disrupts your endocrine system as much or more than BPA, and I haven’t found any cans that aren’t plastic lined.

        See this for more:http://myplasticfreelife.com/2011/04/bpa-free-does-not-mean-safe-most-plastics-leach-hormone-disrupting-chemicals/

        Vanessa wrote on May 19th, 2011
    • I love it but it’s packed with sodium.

      Toby wrote on May 18th, 2011
      • Vital Choice has a “no salt added” very low sodium canned salmon option (40mg per serving). If you buy enough to get their free shipping, the cost is essentially the same as grocery store canned salmon.

        jj wrote on May 18th, 2011
    • I’m curious about canned wild salmon too..

      That and smoked salmon (yum!).

      The Primalist wrote on May 18th, 2011
      • I’ve had canned salmon, very good sprinkled over a salad. Not a fan of smoked salmon though

        bbuddha wrote on May 18th, 2011
    • The best tasty salmon canned is “Wild Sockeye Salmon – canned by Oceans”

      Larry wrote on October 9th, 2013
  2. I have 1/2 -1lb of wild-caught salmon per week WITH the skin. The skin is ok and I’m not overdoing it right?

    Anne wrote on May 18th, 2011
    • when I have grilled salmon I always eat the skin, I hope it’s healthy cause it tastes so good YUM

      bbuddha wrote on May 18th, 2011
  3. Yes yes yes! I can eat crab!!!

    Hey, what do you think of canned wild salmon? I’ve always wondered about that…

    Peggy The Primal Parent wrote on May 18th, 2011
  4. Don’t forget canned salmon. Traditional packed alaskan canned salmon is super tasty, as convenient as canned tuna, and an excellent source of calcium if you mash the bones in. I like to mix it with an egg and some grated veggies and fry into salmon cakes. Even my toddler wolfs them down.

    What about flatfish like sole & flounder? I notice they’re always very cheap and I’ve been wondering if there’s a health reason why they’re not a great choice.

    jj wrote on May 18th, 2011
    • I used to eat lots of canned wild Alaskan salmon, but got concerned about the BPA’s so I stopped.

      The question is, do the high levels of Omega 3′s cancel out the BPA’s from a health perspective?

      You really can’t win these days!

      Ella wrote on May 19th, 2011
  5. hey anyone from india here?? esp from chennai… would be wonderful to get to know your exp with primal lifestyle…

    bharath wrote on May 18th, 2011
  6. Am I getting the same amount of nutrients from frozen salmon? I usually have individually quick-frozen wild pacific salmon because it can be kept for much longer. The only thing I worry is about a loss of nutrients.

    Caitlin wrote on May 18th, 2011
    • I hope this doesn’t go into moderation because of the link, but this web page is very helpful in making decisions about nutrient intake vs. food preparation.

      http://nutritiondata.self.com/topics/processing

      I don’t think much of the Self magazine nutrition site in general, but that chart is quite useful.

      Dana wrote on May 18th, 2011
      • that website is nonsense though so I don’t know if you can really trust that chart. They also grade foods by how full it makes you feel, and they claim lowfat milk is more filling than vitamin d milk..neat little chart but who knows if it’s at all accurate.

        Daniel wrote on August 1st, 2013
    • Freezing will not cause any significant loss of nutrients. Indeed, since frozen fish is often frozen on the boat soon after it was caught, it will have had much less time to spoil than the unfrozen fish.

      Tim wrote on May 18th, 2011
  7. Still wondering about shrimp, farmed in Asia vs. wild or what…

    Jenny wrote on May 18th, 2011
    • Duhr, just saw the promise to cover shrimp in-depth next. Sorry! I should’ve looked past the headers…

      Jenny wrote on May 18th, 2011
  8. Thanks Mark, an interesting read!
    Personally, I don’t eat tuna or cod because of the sustainability issue and huge overfishing – I reckon if we’re going to be living primally, we should make sure the generations after us can too, and because these fish are so popular, the best way I can do that is by abstaining altogether. Food for thought :)

    Annika wrote on May 18th, 2011
  9. I made tuna sandwiches for my kids’ lunch today. They absolutely love them. I cringe. No more than once a month in this house.

    Alison Golden wrote on May 18th, 2011
    • I’d be more worried about selenium than mercury in tuna… tunafish have more selenium than mercury. Selenium (with the help of zinc) is used to disable mercury. But too much selenium (400ug/day) = selenium poisoning. Too bad nutritional analysis of selenium content in tuna can’t be used as a reliable source of bio-available selenium for the same reason that mercury content in tuna can’t be used as a reliable source of bio-available mercury.

      mm wrote on May 19th, 2011
  10. “To be on the safe side, I’d suggest those groups avoid the stuff altogether and maybe eat sardines, mackerel, or wild salmon for the omega-3s instead.”

    Also eat salmon for the vitamin D. It is one of THE best sources of dietary vitamin D, hands down. Every chart I’ve run across places it high on the list. It’s no accident that northern-latitude traditional cultures eat a lot of it–Inuit and northern Pacific coast Indians around the Pacific, Scots on the Atlantic, etc.

    Dana wrote on May 18th, 2011
  11. what about snapper?

    jamie wrote on May 18th, 2011
  12. The cod issue worries me, not because of the muscle flesh but because of the livers–cod liver oil, when not sanitized to death, is a fantastic source of vitamins A and D. Dr. Weston Price used it in his nutritional therapy for poor kids in his hometown. It works best when accompanied with high-vitamin butter oil. Most people don’t take cod liver oil anymore, though, so this might not be a concern for a while, if ever again–and educating people about the few other sources of vitamin D in the human diet, and getting them to eat land-animal liver, will probably help.

    Dana wrote on May 18th, 2011
  13. This is all great info. Now, if I just ate fish, it would be all that much better. :)

    IcarianVX wrote on May 18th, 2011
    • I’ve noticed that most people who don’t eat fish have an aversion to the ‘fishy taste.’ If fish tastes ‘fishy,’ it is rotten and no one should eat it. Even oily (good fat) salmon has a wonderful, what I call, ocean breeze smell and taste when it is fresh. My dearest girl friend would NOT eat any fish I prepared; then she gained a partner with a boat and they went up the inside passage to Alaska where he bought fish right off the boats. Suffice it to say, she eats fish now. Yes, she’s still my dearest girlfriend, even though she didn’t trust me on the fish business!

      Mary Anne wrote on May 18th, 2011
  14. I’d also suggest looking at the eyes of ‘fresh’ fish. If the eyes are clouded white and flat, it’s not fresh and it’s likely been frozen. Look for bright, clear raised ones.
    When you touch the flesh, it should spring back under pressure. IT should NOT leave a mark.
    And the gills should be bright and pink/red, if it’s grey, it’s rotting.

    Nion wrote on May 18th, 2011
    • I think by law all commercially sold fish has to be deep frozen for a certain time to kill parasites.
      So whatever says fresh, or wild caught, still was previously frozen.

      That’s what my butcher told me anyways.

      Suvetar wrote on May 18th, 2011
      • I think that’s true for salt-water fish (particularly if it’s going to be eaten as sashimi/sushi), but not so for shellfish or freshwater fish. They don’t have the same parasite exposure or burden.

        I buy shrimp in particular that are sold specifically as never previously frozen.

        MaryLouise wrote on May 18th, 2011
      • Are you in the US? Here in Canada (Vancouver) i can get fresh fish caught the same day at Safeway.

        Nion wrote on May 18th, 2011
        • Yes it’s true in Canada if you live near one of the coasts you can get fresh marine fish. I lived for a while in St. John’s Newfoundland (pronounced Newf-in-LAND). Some of my favourite meals were to go to small seafood restaurants down near the quay. The fish were fresh, some nights we would order pan fried (sautéd-French for fried btw) cod fillets. The chef would walk down to his waiting boat and pick out a live codfish and carry it back to the kitchen. I have never tasted fish before or since that was that fresh, never frozen alive seconds before it was cooked. If you can you need to try it even at the risk of putting you off frozen fish but certainly you will never touch canned fish again! Oh and those fillets 150 mm x 150 mm x 75 mm; shocking!

          James Wilson wrote on May 18th, 2011
        • Newfie!

          mm wrote on May 19th, 2011
  15. Great info!! It’s good also to keep in mind that seafood has seasons too, just like fruit & veg (even dairy). Eating what’s in season can help with sustainability.

    I can remember to limit tuna, but beyond that I think I’ll stick to buying from the local fish market (Empire Fish) and the natural foods co-op. They do a lot of the legwork already, and only buy sustainably caught/raised goods.

    MaryLouise wrote on May 18th, 2011
  16. I just bought a couple of tins of cod liver (in it’s own oil) from a specialty food store – I’ve never come across it before, so I’m excited to try it. Although I do supplement with fermented cod liver oil, and if it tastes anything like that, perhaps I should tone down my enthusiasm :p

    The Primalist wrote on May 18th, 2011
    • A company called TouSain sells cod liver in its own oil in blue tin cans in regular grocery stores where I live in Montreal (ingrediets: cod liver, cod liver oil)

      mm wrote on May 19th, 2011
      • TouSain sounds like a coined name derived from ‘tout sante’, which may or may not be grammatically correct French, but would roughly translate as ‘full health.’ I’d be willing to bet it’s a Quebec-based company that is trying to provide healthy food to its constituents (unless it’s just a bandwagon jumper!).

        Barrie wrote on May 26th, 2011
  17. A great source for canned tuna, wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, and shrimp is Wild Planet Foods.
    The tuna is low mercury (62% less than average brands) and is the best tuna I’ve ever had. They lightly cook what is basically sashimi-grade in the can (BPA free)and it is so juicy and moist we often just eat it straight out of the can.
    And all of their seafood is sustainably caught. If you can’t find the brand in stores, they offer free shipping in the continental U.S.

    No, I don’t work for them :-) But really, it’s the best tuna, salmon, and sardines I’ve ever had! http://www.wildplanetfoods.com/

    Liz V wrote on May 18th, 2011
  18. I remember reading about Sardines in the Blueprint. Are these still a go? Thanks!

    Lester San Jose wrote on May 18th, 2011
  19. I am always suspicious that the crappy fatty acid profile of tilapia (and the bland, boring taste) is more to do with its typical grain-based diet than an inherent characteristic of the fish. I am very curious to find out what they taste like when raised on naturally-grown (from compost) duckweed, algae and the occasional insect or worm. I bet they taste better and have better fatty acids too. I will find out as soon as I get my home aquaponics setup ready to go.

    I’m also considering barramundi (although I don’t know if those are easy to get in the States) and trout, but it’s probably too hot for trout where I live.

    Uncephalized wrote on May 18th, 2011
    • I was suspicious of tilapia when I found out that they’re grown in tanks with bass so that they can eat the bass crap.

      I know, I know — lots of things are bottomfeeders, and I eat them cheerfully, but the lack of flavor in tilapia never worked for me, and the crap-eating just confirmed that feeling. And if I’m going to go to the trouble of preparing and cooking fish, it had better have an Omega-3 kick.

      So in short: lack of tilapia consumption — still justified! :)

      Steph wrote on May 18th, 2011
      • I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds tilapia flavorless & bland.

        I don’t find it much trouble to cook, just dip fillets in some egg, dip in ground dried coconut as a breading and then pan fry. It’s how my dad used to do trout when we went fishing as a kid… just substituting his cornmeal with coconut.

        jj wrote on May 18th, 2011
  20. Wild Planet claims their canned tuna is much lower mercury content ( <50% ) than conventional tuna steaks; because they use only smaller fish. Is there independent confirmation of this marketing, or should my wife who breastfeeds our baby avoid even that brand?

    Joe Brancaleone wrote on May 18th, 2011
    • Not worth the risk, tell her to stop eating the tuna. My best friends two sons are autistic and they think the cause was his wife eating too much tuna during pregnancy/breast feeding.

      Greg wrote on May 18th, 2011
      • wow, your best friends don’t know anything about the full range of physiological and neurological effects of mercury poisoning if they think a severe mercury load caused autism but conveniently did leave any other non-autistic damage anywhere else on their bodies (i.e. straw coloured tongue, detectable mercury-laden and defective bones, liver & kidney damage or failure, etc.), nor has it occured to any one of you that healthy tuna fish have their own ways of neutralizing mercury from their bodies.

        mm wrote on May 19th, 2011
    • In my humble opinion, no pregnant or breastfeeding woman should have any amount of tuna given the reality of today’s polluted seas. Take it or leave it, this is the advice that I have given to all my siblings and friends. I have a child with Autism as well and while mercury certainly isn’t the only factor, it can be a significant one.

      Sabrina wrote on May 19th, 2011
      • Only if you
        a) have a poor understanding of the science involded,
        b) are intellectualy lazy and can’t be bothered to look at all the research objectively, and
        c) think all autistics are brain-damaged retards.

        mm wrote on May 19th, 2011
        • The best understanding we have at the moment is that autism is caused by a combination of a genetic predisposition that interacts with prenatal stresses to disrupt brain development.

          We don’t know exactly which stresses are most important, but infections, maternal allergies and medication use are possible candidates.

          A good and recent analysis of this that is free to read is:

          “Prenatal risk factors for autism: comprehensive meta-analysis.” Br J Psychiatry. 2009 Jul;195(1):7-14.

          Tim wrote on May 19th, 2011
  21. I’ve found that the skinless and boneless sardines packed in water taste a lot like tuna. Not as good for you as the ones with skin and bones, but it’s like tuna without the big mercury worry.

    ShannonCC wrote on May 18th, 2011
    • I agree. I was scared of sardines for the longest time and when I finally tried them, I had no idea what the fuss was about. If you like tuna, you’ll like sardines. I have substituted boneless skinless sardines in every tuna recipe we have and nobody has noticed the difference.

      heather wrote on May 19th, 2011
  22. I often buy packs of wild, “cold smoked” salmon instead of uncooked fish. It’s very easy to add to salads, tastes great, and is cheap or comparably priced relative to raw wild salmon.

    Any thoughts on the health effects if any of cold smoking? I am careful to choose products with no additional additives like brown sugar, which seems to come up a lot in this type of item. The convenience and price factor get me eating a lot more salmon and I love it, just want to make sure I’m not adding any unnecessary carcinogens into the mix… Thanks.

    Chris wrote on May 18th, 2011
  23. This may have been covered already, maybe I missed it..But I heard that GMO tuna is now legal to sell to consumers, but it’s only the females. Can anyone point me in the right direction with this? Thanks.
    -Chris

    Chris wrote on May 18th, 2011
    • There is no such thing as GMO tuna. There is a modified salmon that grows faster than usual, but it hasn’t been approved by the FDA yet.

      Tim wrote on May 18th, 2011
  24. I’m wondering about oysters? How do they rate on the health chart? Love them, but don’t eat them often.

    Judy wrote on May 18th, 2011
  25. WHAT ABOUT OYSTERS?

    Mike wrote on May 18th, 2011
    • Mark covered shellfish last week. Any and all farm raised oysters are ok!

      Primal Toad wrote on May 18th, 2011
    • Oyster are excellent source of minerals. Great product to consume

      Aram Hovsepian wrote on May 18th, 2011
      • i’ll second that! i’ve seen great results in overall exercise performance and fat loss/muscle gain since focusing on increasing my zinc intake via a few cans of wild oysters (in water) per week along with higher selenium intake via brazil nuts daily to support testosterone production. it’s funny how the most mundane solution can work almost like magic. good call man.

        primivore wrote on May 18th, 2011
        • Be careful you don’t poison yourself with selenium; the toxicity threshold for chronic use is very low; daily expose to only 400 micrograms is enough to eventually induce such unpleasant symptoms as all your hair falling out…

          Selenium is good for neutralizing mercury (unless you’re going throught chelation therapy), and the stated selenium content of fish can’t be relied upon if chemical analysis does not take into account that a portion of the selenium is made bio-unavailable from bonding with and neutralizing the mercury in fish

          mm wrote on May 19th, 2011
  26. Hi Mark,

    Great breakdown. What about the articles that say mercury isn’t an issue for fish as selenium (high in fish) is protective?

    http://www.wfoa-tuna.org/health/ralstonraymond.pdf
    http://www.mercuryfacts.org/fselenium.cfm

    Andrea Reina wrote on May 18th, 2011
    • Kit Perkins wrote on May 18th, 2011
    • Chris Kresser from the Healthy Skeptic talked about this too. He said the selenium in fish binds to mercury, thereby making the mercury unable to bind to our body and cause damage. It means you might absorb a bit less selenium, but all is well.

      Provided the fish has more selenium than mercury it shouldn’t be much of a problem. In addition amino acids can get rid of heavy metals.

      Steven wrote on May 18th, 2011
      • Only thing that annoys me is the scientific articles I’ve read are quite confusing on the matter – it seems even when selenium neutralizes mercury in the body the mercury isn’t automatically expelled it can stay in our bodies for a while…. yet, the literature seems to suggest strongly that this bio-unavailable mercury, even in places like the brain, appears to cause no damage.
        Either way, good news is the brain, despite its obvious vulnerability, is much better at neutralizing/metabolising mercury quickly than other organs such as bones… to the point where a major concern for mercury exposure is bone cancer

        mm wrote on May 19th, 2011
  27. I had some fresh Icelandic wild haddock the other day, can defintely see why they arent a good source of Omega 3′s, there was very little fat in the fish to begin with.

    IdealPeace wrote on May 18th, 2011
  28. Great post. I am a big fan of wild-caught Alaskan fish, especially salmon. Don’t shy away from frozen fish. Especially for AK salmon and halibut, it is usally flash frozen soon after harvest and is much “fresher” than a week-old unforzen fish.

    I also shy away from rockfish, also sometimes known as red snapper (in the case of yellow-eyed rockfish). last year a yellow0eye rockfish caugh in Alaska weighted in at 14 pounds (medium). It was 147 years old, which means it was a tiny fish when Alaska was purshased from Russia way back when. These are slow-growing fish that breed best when old and big. Very easy to overfish.

    Randy wrote on May 18th, 2011
    • Too bad Canada uses farmed fish, I’d love to buy canned BC salmon instead of giving my money away to my neighbours down south… or should I say, up north-west?

      mm wrote on May 19th, 2011
  29. Is anyone else worried about the radiation from Japan infiltrating the fish supply? I haven’t seen any testing of the fish or findings so I’ve just stopped eating ocean fish.

    Mary wrote on May 18th, 2011
    • Same here. I only eat fish from my bro-in-law who fishes at high elevation lakes and streams in Idaho.
      Golden Trout is da bomb :-)

      Suvetar wrote on May 18th, 2011
      • This isn’t something to worry about. The amount of radiation released has been tiny in comparison to the natural levels of radiation in the Pacific.

        A small drop in a very large ocean!

        Tim wrote on May 18th, 2011
    • We’re also concerned about the radiation affecting the tuna & Pacific caught salmon we eat… glad you brought it up – although, I wish we didn’t have to discuss such things.

      patti wrote on May 19th, 2011
    • Radiation as a form of oxidative stress/inducer of free radical chemical reactions is something that sounds so very scary. Who wouldn’t be afraid of opening a can of glowing fish? But in terms of molecular damage to the body, radiation plays a miniscule role for most people compared to the more mundane free radical health destroyers of glucose, fructose, overcooked protein and too many polyunsaturated fatty acids…

      mm wrote on May 19th, 2011
  30. What say you about swordfish and lobster?

    Robert wrote on May 18th, 2011
  31. I love fish, but for whatever reason Salmon makes me gag.
    It has to swim in butter for me to choke it down.

    Suvetar wrote on May 18th, 2011
    • I love salmon but thats still a fantastic idea. Cooking itina fair amount of butter and then dipping it in butter.

      Primal Toad wrote on May 18th, 2011
  32. I LOVE the fact that all crab is wild caught. I am also a little pissed.

    I went to Chicago for the New Year and my lovely brother had snow carb that he purchased from Jewel Osco. I was an idiot and did not eat it. I was going to and then decided against it because I thought it was farmed raised.

    Well, I learned a ver valuable lesson. I can’t wait to leave tomorrow morning for Chicago to buy some crabmeat.

    I am interested to find out more about lobster too.

    And, Mark, What about amphibians and reptiles? Are these safe and good to eat? I want to eat some gator in Florida. It seems as if this is very ideal. Amphibians and reptiles have a decent amount of omega 3, right?

    Primal Toad wrote on May 18th, 2011
  33. What about fresh Halibut from Alaska?

    Mary wrote on May 18th, 2011
    • I love Halibut! And I am fortunate to be able to buy fresh Halibut when its available.

      steve cornell wrote on May 18th, 2011
  34. I buy flounder fillets. They are wild caught and mild tasting.

    driverspice wrote on May 18th, 2011
  35. About the crab’s hepatopancreas–that’s kind of a combination liver/pancreas, right?

    On Monday you told us that toxins don’t accumulate in the liver, but here you say they do, at least in crabs. Is that because their livers are different from ours, or is it just that some crabs are under such a heavy toxic load that the toxins accumulate because they’re coming in faster than the hepatopancreas can break them down?

    Brandon Berg wrote on May 18th, 2011
    • It has some of the functions of the liver, pancreas and gut, but it is very different from any mammalian organ. It seems to accumulate metals as a way of detoxifying them.

      Tim wrote on May 18th, 2011
  36. Any thoughts on freshwater trout?

    steve cornell wrote on May 18th, 2011
  37. Is the mercury in tuna really that bad? It seems there is more than enough selenium to counteract it. Not sure how rigorous this analysis is (or if this group has some hidden agenda) since I’m no expert in this field, but it looks pretty convincing:
    http://www.mercuryfacts.org/fselenium.cfm

    That same site links to a study a few years ago in Lancet indicating that pregnant women eating more fish during pregnancy was beneficial to the child:

    http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140673607602773/fulltext

    Thoughts?

    Josh wrote on May 18th, 2011
  38. Low price on tulapia is achieved by converting the young females to males through the use of the hormone drug 17alpha-methytestosterone.
    I highly doubt that it is good product to consume.

    Aram Hovsepian wrote on May 18th, 2011
  39. This reminds me of this TED talk I saw:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4EUAMe2ixCI

    Spartacus wrote on May 18th, 2011
  40. I am one of those fish haters…and you pretty much listed all the fish that I can actually eat as Omega three worthless, except for tuna.

    I do love me some crab, though. Not so much shrimp. Scallops are okay because they are somewhat like crab (at least to my taste).

    J. wrote on May 18th, 2011

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