May 18 2011

Grocery Store Seafood: What to Eat and What to Avoid

By Mark Sisson
154 Comments

In 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!

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154 thoughts on “Grocery Store Seafood: What to Eat and What to Avoid”

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  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…

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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…

        2. Almost all canned salmon is wild caught. It will say so somewhere on the lable.

        3. Vital Choice has BPA-free cans. I guess they had a problem with some non-BPA-free lids but are working to resolve that.

      2. 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.

        1. 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 :/

      3. 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. 🙂

      4. The bones in canned salmon are soft and yummy – give them a try!

      1. 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.

      1. I’ve had canned salmon, very good sprinkled over a salad. Not a fan of smoked salmon though

    2. The best tasty salmon canned is “Wild Sockeye Salmon – canned by Oceans”

  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?

    1. when I have grilled salmon I always eat the skin, I hope it’s healthy cause it tastes so good YUM

  3. 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.

    1. 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!

  4. hey anyone from india here?? esp from chennai… would be wonderful to get to know your exp with primal lifestyle…

  5. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

    2. 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.

  6. Still wondering about shrimp, farmed in Asia vs. wild or what…

    1. Duhr, just saw the promise to cover shrimp in-depth next. Sorry! I should’ve looked past the headers…

  7. 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 🙂

  8. I made tuna sandwiches for my kids’ lunch today. They absolutely love them. I cringe. No more than once a month in this house.

    1. 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.

  9. “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.

  10. 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.

  11. This is all great info. Now, if I just ate fish, it would be all that much better. 🙂

    1. 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!

  12. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

      2. Are you in the US? Here in Canada (Vancouver) i can get fresh fish caught the same day at Safeway.

        1. 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!

  13. 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.

  14. 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

    1. 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)

      1. 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!).

  15. 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/

  16. I remember reading about Sardines in the Blueprint. Are these still a go? Thanks!

  17. 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.

    1. 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! 🙂

      1. 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.

  18. 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?

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

    2. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

  19. 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.

    1. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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

    1. 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.

  22. I’m wondering about oysters? How do they rate on the health chart? Love them, but don’t eat them often.

      1. 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.

        1. 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

    1. 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.

      1. 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

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

    1. 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?

  25. 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.

    1. 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 🙂

      1. 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!

    2. 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.

    3. 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…

  26. I love fish, but for whatever reason Salmon makes me gag.
    It has to swim in butter for me to choke it down.

    1. I love salmon but thats still a fantastic idea. Cooking itina fair amount of butter and then dipping it in butter.

  27. 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?

    1. I love Halibut! And I am fortunate to be able to buy fresh Halibut when its available.

  28. I buy flounder fillets. They are wild caught and mild tasting.

  29. 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?

    1. 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.

  30. 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?

  31. 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.

  32. 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).

  33. Always, always, always be aware of mercury contamination. While the benefits of some fish may outweigh the potential harm in mercury consumption, there are steps that can be taken to remove unwanted mercury.

    For example, chlorella, another organism from the sea (isn’t it neat how nature gives us the antidote to the poison in the same context?) can be taken to expel mercury. One study demonstrates this effect: http://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/jts/35/1/101/_pdf/-char/ja/

    Always know the source.

  34. What about the radiation from Fukushima? The FDA is not testing anything.

    1. The radiation released is miniscule compared to the amount of natural radiation in the Pacific. This is not something we have to worry about.

      Fish caught in Japanese waters and imported to the US are being tested, but nothing above ordinary has been detected so far.

      1. I wouldn’t be quick to dismiss the radiation threat. According to this article, “A water sample taken just outside the water intake for the No. 2 unit showed the level of radioactive iodine-131 at 7.5 million times the allowable limit, the most dangerous level of radiation so far detected.” (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703712504576244251331137870.html)

        Also, it’s interesting to note that the FDA only inspects about 2% of all seafood. Any information released from them should be evaluated more scrupulously.

        1. Take a swimming pool of water at, at say 20 million times the allowable limit with 100 million rem (limit is 5 rem per year).

          Dilute this 2,500 cubic meters of dangerous water into the pacific, which has a volume of 622 million cubic kilometers.

          Dilution = 0.0000025/622

          Final radioactivity you would be exposed to if you drank the entire volume of the pacific = 0.4 rem per year

          Radiation you would be exposed to if you drank 1 liter of the pacific = 0.4/1,000,000,000,000

          Dose = 0.00000000000004 rem

          The dose you get from your own body’s natural radiation is 0.04 rem per year.

        2. Take a swimming pool of water at, at say 20 million times the allowable limit with 100 million rem (limit is 5 rem per year).

          Dilute this 2,500 cubic meters of dangerous water into the pacific, which has a volume of 622 million cubic kilometers.

          Dilution = 0.0000025/622

          Final radioactivity you would be exposed to if you somehow managed to drink a cubic kilometer of the pacific = 0.4 rem per year

          Radiation you would be exposed to if you drank 1 liter of the pacific = 0.4/1,000,000,000,000

          Dose = 0.00000000000004 rem

          The dose you get from your own body’s natural radiation is 0.04 rem per year.

        3. Add to this the fact that most of the radioactivity released has been iodine 131, which has a half-life of only 8 days. So for example, one month after a release of 1,000 curies of radioactive iodine, only about 63 curies will remain.

          About 1% of the radiation is cesium 137, which has a much longer half life (30 years) and so will persist in the environment.

          This means that if you are concerned about long-term effects, you have to divide all the numbers above by a further factor of 100. However, since the numbers are already so small, this will only change the risk from miniscule, down to infinitesimal.

  35. What about shrimp? We have bought locally caught fresh shrimp at a popular fish market here in FL. Nothing frozen or at the grocery store.

  36. I think fish is a very controversial issue, at least with me, i have a very peculiar perspective about eating fish, mainly tuna, salmon, tilapia and the sort. I say this based on the omega-3 oils, which are non saturated fats and find them to be more damaging in the long term than any other food item. Tuna specifically has a high content of heavy metals, that can potentially be catastrophic to people sensitive to heavy metal toxicity, salmon (unless is wild caught) is down right nasty, i wouldn’t consume any farm animal under any circumstance. Tilapia is mostly farmed and used to clean up the pens where other fish is being harvested at the same time, tilapia is a bottom feeder and eats all the waste that is fed including other fish’s waste. It is a well documented fact that fish is all PUFA, and link to many metabolic dysfunctions-mainly down regulation of the thyroid.
    Fish from Newark, NJ ???? oh heck no, i lived in Newark NJ for many years, anything that can swim in that water should be packed in a steel drum and buried very deep, the pollution levels in that water has to be atrocious.
    http://clicky.me/55UP

  37. Even Alaskans eat canned salmon. It is jarred/canned just as one would preserve anything else from the summer harvest. It is caught and immediately processed. I think it is healthier in some ways because it is the only way outside to get the bones. Here, they would be used in stock, etc. and the eggs eaten. Try and get the beautiful red sockeye. It is worth the $5 tag versus the $2. All the red oil contained. The cans are safe…white inside.

  38. I’ve also noticed the ‘scam’ going in many grocers in the lower 48. Frozen fish labeled ‘wild caught’ and ‘alaskan wild salmon’.

    If you look for the tiny smudged stamp in black….you will see ‘product of China.’ It is barely visible.

  39. Mark, You’d think after five years you would run out of stuff to talk about… But the articles like this are ridiculously informative. Thanks.

  40. Nice photo in the serenity pool at Four Seasons Wailea! One of our favorite places to weekend!

  41. Very good post indeed! I am a fishmonger by trade, so this topic is right up my alley! I am confused about your tuna section though. Albacore(tombo) is a much much smaller fish then yellowfin(ahi) and is usually harvested younger, hence being lower in mercury then its larger cousin yellowfin. Also, everywhere I’ve ever looked albacore is usually considerably less in cost then yellowfin. At my market currently, albacore $13lb….yellowfin $20lb. Also an interesting note, tuna is the only large pelagic fish that does NOT get infected with parasites. Nice to know. Previous commenters comment about all fish being sold having to be previously frozen…not true. For a fish to be call sashimi grade/ready it has to be frozen, but fresh fish is fresh. Love this topic, I can go on forever! Ask your fishmonger about the method of harvest and location of harvest and do your research about sustainability. Thanks for the post Mark!

  42. Mark I believe the people of the WAPF foundation made a mention in one of there articles. That mercury has always been around via Volcano explosions. They also said a body with good levels of Vit A and Cholesterol can handle mild levels of mercury ill find it.

  43. I’m amazed at the number of fish mongers who will not let me smell the offering. I’ve a great nose and won’t buy anything fresh that doesn’t pass my nose test. That said, I absolutely agree that frozen can be the better choice. (salmon, halibut, ling cod…)

    On another note, tuna in my area (Portland, OR) is available canned (jarred, actually) where the fish is packed raw and then processed. Most tuna is cooked, then packed, then processed. If you have the $$$ and the source, I highly recommend trying the ‘once-cooked’ tuna. It has the added advantage of being line/troll caught and is usually albacore that has been tested and passed as lower in contaminants.

    1. If they won’t let you smell the fish it’s because they know it’s rotten. They will pass it off on some unsuspecting fool that doesn’t know any better. Always, always ask to smell the piece of food you are buying and ultimately going to injest! Some fishmongers would sell sh*t to a saint. I’m not one of those. I’ll let you smell my fish, I’ll tell you where it was caught, or raised, how it was caught , or raised, the ranking it has on the MBA list, and ways to cook your purchase. A trusted fishmonger is like a trusted butcher, or mechanic.
      BTW…would love to try some of the albi you were speaking of!

    1. as far as sustainability, go with the Monterey Bay Aquarium list mentioned in Mark’s article. We don’t do sea bass, even though some is thought to be ok, as chilean sea bass is a hmmmm needlefish, renamed. Also, do not under any circumstances buy orange roughy. The fishing for that species destroys coral reefs where they live. plus they take about 100 years to mature to reproduction…. Orange roughy were ‘discovered’ when other fisheries were depleted and fishers used drag nets/lines to get them, which leveled the coral ‘forests’ where the fish live.

      1. iPhone users can download the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch app, which is an excellent reference to use while shopping.

        I’ve been enjoying some fantastic Georges Bank Cod from my local NYC farmers’ market, but after downloading the app, I am reminded that I need to confirm it is line caught and not trawled.

  44. As a Aboriginal I know not all salmon are equal. Sockeye are highly prized by Indians because of it’s high oil content. The oil in the fish allows sockeye to wind dry properly…it’s our version of jerky.
    The other types of salmon Coho, Steelhead, Spring, King and Dog have very low fat content and were sold to non natives.

  45. If you’re after cheap fish, with high Omega 3, check out Brunswick Sardines. I’m literally eating them now. They are wild caught baby herring from America and Canada, then have their heads and tails removed, thrown in a tin and cooked. I made a nice Manhattan fish chowder just using these.

  46. Could anyone tell me what the cod liver tastes like? What texture does it have? What do you do with it?
    Sounds healthy, but sounds uber-gross. I don’t have the nerve to buy it.
    Thanks!

  47. Fresh and frozen seafood are preferable due to issues already mentioned (such as BPA). The naturally occurring cholesterol in fish, when subjected to high temperatures during manufacture and/or processing (like canning seafood) forms variable amounts of oxysterols (like, 25-hydroxycholesterol). From http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2621.1985.tb10494.x

    The addition of vegetable oil enhances the development of cholesterol oxidation, especially in fish-based products (as opposed to meat).

    On a related topic, oxidized cholesterol is also present in ghee (clarified butter) due the heating process and animal studies suggest ghee may interfere with immune cell (lymphocyte) proliferation and function.

  48. How bad is farmed salmon? I love salmon but living in London, my main super martkets are Tesco and Sainsbury’s where I just can’t find wild caught. I am miving home to Aus soon too, and I am thinking it will be hard to find wild caught Atlantic salmon there!

    Is it that bad? Should I not eat it?

    Thanks!

  49. Great post! I’d never heard of tilapia and will look for it. That said, reading the descriptions of the different options I was really nostalgic for Japan. That was seafood heaven…

  50. In England we get alot of farmed salmon, also fresh cod and haddock and mackeral. I buy naturally smoked haddock which is gorgoeus steamed in butter and milk. I eat alot of smoked salmon. In our household we also love herrings. Here Talapia is a luxury rare fish.I’ve never had it .
    I also buy pepper smoked mackeral and make a lovely pate with yogurt and lemon juice.

  51. What about the radioactive fallout from the Fukashima Plant in Japan? I see the ocean current runs up to Alaska.

  52. Here is the summary from Chris’s excellent blog article on mercury and selenium:

    Summary
    This is simply a re-cap of the overview presented at the beginning of the article. But it’s worth repeating.

    Selenium protects against mercury toxicity, and 16 of the 25 highest dietary sources of selenium are ocean fish.
    If a fish contains higher levels of selenium than mercury, it is safe to eat.
    Most species of commonly eaten fish in the U.S. have more selenium than mercury.
    Fish are not significant sources of PCBs and dioxins when compared to meat, dairy or vegetables.
    The benefits of eating fish regularly far outweigh the potential risks, which are neglible.
    Pregnant mothers and young children should eat 2-3 servings of oily ocean fish each week.

  53. Mary, you beat me to it.

    Massive amounts of radioactive water are being dumped into the sea from Fukushima. Surely this will contaminate Pacific salmon and other seafood.

  54. Good post Mark. But you don’t have to worry about sustainability of the Icelandic fishing policy its known to be and is one of the best controlled fisheries in the world, believe me.

  55. I think we are discounting Fukishima, the idea that a meltdown such as that does not have health concerns is absurd.

    I know it’s a crap shoot that you might eat a fish which ate a fish or consumed a radioactive particle, but why take the chance. I’ll let the pacific rim eat its potentially radioactive fish for ten years and see if their cancer rate goes up before I’ll dine on that radioactive sushi

  56. Since the Japanese triple disaster, are Pacific fish safe to eat? Do geographic regions differ(alaska vs california or washington)? I know we all want it to be safe, but is it?

    1. Yes, it is perfectly safe. See the discussion on the previous page.

  57. What about the seafood coming from Japan with all the radiation, etc. I know a lot of seafood comes through Japan. I hope this wasn’t already asked but i tried to skim the previous comments.

  58. Mercury, BPA, selenium, plastic…FEAR!!! Isn’t that what a healthy lymphatic systems is for. I feel there is more damage in the STRESS everyone is living with FEAR. There’s more damage sitting in traffic talking on a cell phone. People of zee world, RELAX!

  59. So I see Tim saying of post Fukashima Pacific fish “it’s safe, it’s safe, it’s safe” and nothing against him but one voice saying the same thing over and over a hundred times isn’t exactly satisfying. If you Google “pacific fish safe” you’ll get a different story. I’m not as concerned about ocean current radiation as I am with the airborne variety such as has been found in Seattle. IF it’s in the air conditioning ducts it’s in the water. So, any other voices out there? I’d love for Mark to weigh in on this because I know he’d do the research and give us the straightb dope even if it’s inconclusive.

    1. If you have a look at the calculations on the previous page, you’ll see why a radiation leak across the Pacific isn’t something to worry about.

      If it were big enough to cause a problem in America, everybody in Japan would already be dead.

  60. I have been told by many people to avoid any and all ocean fish b/c of all the pollutants in the water. (oil spills, radiation, dumping, heavy metal etc)

    Even wild caught would be bad.

    What do you all make of that?

  61. Hoki is the suggested alternative to Cod for about 10 years now in Britain and Ireland due to overfishing.

    Cod is too expensive as well.

    Hoki tastes exactly the same as Cod anyway.

  62. Hey Mark,
    When it comes to tuna I am a bit concerned with the mercury content as I do enjoy ONE small tin of tuna on most days.
    However, after reading that if the tuna contains more selenium than mercury then there is no need to limit it as the selenium helps to bind with the mercury and carry it out of the body.
    http://chriskresser.com/the-truth-about-toxic-mercury-in-fish
    I also ready that garlic, onions and a few other foods that people consume on a regular basis help to remove heavy metals also.
    I am interested to hear your thoughts on this since im a regular tuna eater as it’s my only convenient source of tinned protein due to spending years of eating tons of tinned salmon and sardines now im sooo put off, it’s like my body is rejecting the idea of more salmon or sardines!
    Maybe I have a build up of something contained in those things which is why im rarely hungry for those foods anymore?
    Anyway I hope to hear from you.
    By the way thankyou again for sharing all your knowledge and information.
    By the way I just promoted you on facebook (on my friends page who is in the fitness industry and has plenty of followers) because I know there are still sooo many people out there that could benefit from reading your books and regular visits to this website.
    All the best, Ben.

  63. I would like to know if you could publish a printable list of the fish that is safest to eat and where it comes from and if it is wild caught or farmed.

    Thank you.

  64. It also seems when one reads the facts that there are no safe fish to eat from any ocean today since the oceans are now radiated and fishe have washed ashore where radiation has left its ugly effects on these creatures who washed up on various shore lines.

    Now in 2014 I for one will miss all seafood items I used to enjoy before the Japanese reactor disaster, but can clearly read that even canned tuna is grey in color and has an awful smell now, so evidently that has also been radiated from contaminated ocean waters.

    Sure I worry about the vegetables, animals that graze, milk and dairy and the environment, and pray it has not all become radiated from this radiation disaster, but who knows,????

    Should I take a chance and believe all the misinformation now being given out on the internet?

    How does anyone legally raise radiation levels so high now and yet call them acceptable and safe, so they can continue to profit at the expense of human beings, and their descendants?

    To continue to eat seafood or not, that seems to be the billion dollar question now in 2014…..My life and the lives of my family are priceless……how about yours???

  65. Tilapia eat their own feces and are raised in water that looks more like mud than water. How do know this? I taught aquaculture and raised my own tilapia…BUT, mine, were raised in very well filtered 400 gallon tank and the water was clear and tested DAILY. The waste was dried and used as fertilizer. In Hawaii you can catch huge Tilapia in Lake Wilson right outside Wahiawa. No one wants them because they are “junk fish” with about as much standing as suckers get in freshwater streams on mainland with a lot of silt on the bottom.

  66. Red….you should do more research on radiation because your post was WAY off base. For one it is all over the planet in the form of 38 elements some with half lives of seconds to hours to millenia to millions of years. Also, what does color and smell have to do with radiation? It has more to do with processing and I do not know of one can of tuna I have ever opened that does not smell like……processed tuna. Tuna packed in water smells less.Gray tuna is out of date and bad not irridated.
    Your aversion to seafood and food in general vis a vis radiaton borders on paranoia. You better buy some lead foil dude because radiation is ALL around you.

  67. Thank you for some useful information. I love fish but can rarely afford it. Salmon is my favorite but I only have it once every couple of years because of the price.
    The sustainability information doesn’t help the average consumer much because information of this kind or by which method the fish is caught is not available to the average consumer. The person behind the counter can say anything but who knows if their information is correct.
    I am actually one of those people who ate tuna (brown bag lunches) frequently back in the ’90s. When I had some blood tests for an unrelated issue, my mercury levels were at an elevated level. I was advised to find something else to pack for lunch. The threat is real.
    More recently, I’ve been having cod/halibut/pollack two or three times a month because it’s the only fish I can afford and it tastes good. I really don’t like chicken (I eat it but I don’t care for it) and can’t afford beef. So the inexpensive fish is always a treat for us.

  68. I bought Wild Caught Pacific Pollock fillets, the bag says “Product of China” should I be concerned ? Thank you

  69. Wild caught Alaskan salmon is hardly a sustainable seafood source, especially if trawling is the method used to gather the salmon. Large, slow growing fish like salmon have a hard enough time growing up without trawling tearing up the ocean floor. Farmed salmon tends to have around the same environmental impact as chicken farming. (Ellingsen et al. 2006)