Mercury Risk from Fish Varies

Posted May 6th, 2010 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in Food Safety, health, In The News, Meal Tips

Last week I wrote about omega-3 fatty acids, and how they play a critical role in brain function, growth and development, and may reduce the risk of heart disease. They’re found in seafood and shellfish, and no doubt, some of my better-informed readers are weighing the risk of contaminants like mercury against the benefits of omega 3s.

You’ve possibly read about the dangers of mercury, which can occur in some types of fish. So let’s go over the facts. The most important one is this: the FDA says women who are pregnant, want to become so, or are nursing should avoid the fish most likely to have mercury contamination. This rule applies to young children, too.

Mercury levels are generally higher in older, larger, more predatory fish and marine mammals. That’s why I recommend (for people outside the aforementioned groups) consuming no more than one fishmeal per week from predatory fish like shark, tuna and swordfish. The FDA agrees, recommending no more than 7 ounces of fish from the high-mercury-potential list per week.

Do add other seafood meals to your menu, but I recommend no more than two per week from non-predatory fish (sardines, salmon, shrimp, etc.). Oily seafood such as fatty sardines, trout, herring and salmon are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. They are thought to reduce the risk of death from stroke, heart attack, and other cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association also recommends four to six ounces, twice a week, of these types of fish.

Eating a variety of fish also cuts down on any negative effects caused by environmental pollutants. To decrease potential exposure from these types of contaminants, simply remove the skin and surface fat from a fish before cooking. If you know where your fish comes from, specifically, you can also check with local and state authorities in regard to potential contamination of local watersheds.

Here’s the good news: postmenopausal women and men middle-aged or older can relax about mercury consumption. For them, the benefits of eating fish far outweigh any potential risk. The main negative effect from mercury in fish is high blood pressure.

So, as with so many other things in life, moderation is the way to go. Unless you’re in the category of pregnant/nursing/trying or that of young children, a little fish can go a long way toward your heart health and brain function. And it tastes great! Coastal residents are particularly lucky to have easy access to the freshest of fish from local fish markets, retailers and restaurants. Find one or two sources you can rely upon, and support them.

Be aware of watershed issues if eating locally caught fish, and otherwise, simply enjoy this heart-healthy choice. Seafood is lean and low in saturated fats. It’s a great entrée in the evening, too, when that too-full feeling is particularly troubling. A good piece of fish is hard-pressed to make a diner feel he or she has over-indulged, unless it’s stuffed with something and doused in a rich sauce. Fish is also great on top of a salad, whether grilled or blackened.

As summer temps heat up, the added bonus of fish is that it can be cooked outside on the grill. Save on your air conditioning while doing something good for the bodies you feed. It’s a win-win.

Elaine Hastings is a registered dietitian and owner of Associates in Nutrition. Hastings can be contacted at or by visiting Visit her blog for the latest information on nutrition and great tips for staying healthy:

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Seafood, Shellfish Important for Adults, Kids

Posted April 27th, 2010 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in The News-Press Column

Fish: A Four-Letter Word for Healthy!

Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet, and nowhere is fresh fish easier to find than the coast. Increase your odds for a long and healthy life with a simple, tasty change: add fish to your weekly menus.

Here are some nutrition facts to motivate you. Fish is a lean, low-calorie source of protein and a great source of critical omega-3 fatty acids. These play a crucial role in brain function, as well as growth and development, and may even reduce the risk of heart disease.

But here’s the catch: the body can’t make them. We must go to the source for omega-3s, and in a seafood-centric environment, that’s easy. They come from fish – such as salmon, tuna, and halibut; other seafood, including algae and krill; some plants; and nut oils.

A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish can contribute to the whole family’s well-being. Just remember, you don’t have to go overboard to reap the benefits. A little bit of “daily catch” goes a long way. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week (especially fatty fish like trout, herring, sardines, tuna and salmon) at least twice a week. I personally recommend consuming no more than one fish meal per week from predatory fish (shark, tuna, swordfish, etc.) and no more than two per week from non-predatory fish (sardines, salmon, shrimp, etc.). Very few palate-challenged people will be overwhelmed by this schedule.

Some of you are thinking ‘I know fish is good for you, but my family doesn’t really like it.’ There are many recipes that you can use which will increase the appeal. Look for salmon stuffed with crab and breadcrumbs, or use a tasty pesto to enhance the flavor (Costco offers one of the best I’ve found, in its refrigerated section) . Add grilled fish to a salad loaded with other items. Throw some shellfish into your marinara. Be creative and research ways that might make your family happy when consuming fish or shellfish. Here are two seafood recipes which will help:

Easy, tasty tuna salad
1can (12 oz) water-packed solid white tuna, drained
1/3 cup Yoplait® Fat Free plain yogurt
1can (4 oz) crushed pineapple, drained; or grapes
1 stalk celery, finely chopped (1/3 cup); or sweet onion
¼ cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a medium bowl, mix tuna, yogurt, pineapple, celery, pecans, mustard, and cinnamon.
1 serving has approximately 180 Calories, Calories from Fat 50; Total Fat 6g (Saturated Fat 1/2g, Trans Fat 0g); Cholesterol 25mg; Sodium 420mg; Total Carbohydrate 11g (Dietary Fiber 1g, Sugars 9g); Protein 22g.

Shrimp tomato sauce over pasta; makes 4 servings
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small bunch scallions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
¾ cup dry white wine or nonalcoholic white wine
1 tablespoon sugar
¾ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley or basil
12 fresh or frozen and thawed jumbo shrimp, peeled and de-veined
8 ounces spaghetti
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Warm oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add scallions and garlic. Cook 10 minutes, or just until scallions begin to turn golden.
2. Add tomatoes, wine, sugar, and 1/2 cup parsley or basil. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 20 to 25 minutes, or until sauce is slightly thickened.
3. Add shrimp and return to a summer. Cook 4 to 5 minutes or until shrimp is opaque.
4. Meanwhile, cook spaghetti according to package directions. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Add sauce and toss to mix.
5. Sprinkle with Parmesan and remaining 1/4 cup parsley or basil.
Approximately 1 serving has about Calories 380, Calories from Fat 60; Total Fat 7g (Saturated Fat 2g, Trans Fat 0g); Cholesterol 65mg; Sodium 650mg; Total Carbohydrate 59g (Dietary Fiber 6g, Sugars 10g); Protein 19g

Next week, I’ll share some insights about mercury in fish. We’ll sort the truths from the rumors so you can relax at mealtime.

October monthly myth: Eating seafood may raise blood cholesterol

Posted October 1st, 2009 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in Meal Tips, Monthly Myths

It’s National Seafood Month! A new nutrition myth out there is the idea that eating seafood will cause high blood cholesterol. The truth is that cholesterol found in seafood, as well as other meats, has little effect on blood cholesterol. A person’s intake of saturated fat and trans fatty acids are the two most important diet factors that raise blood cholesterol. Saturated fats are found in many packaged foods and in a variety of meat products. Trans fatty acids are also found in packaged snack foods, deep-fried foods, and margarines which contain hydrogenated oil.