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Choose safer fish, reduce your mercury risk

Consumer Reports News: August 26, 2009 02:28 PM

We’ve reported at length that fish is a key player in a healthful diet. Just two servings a week can provide enough omega-3 fatty acids to help keep your heart healthy and ward off certain cancers. And some studies suggest fish can help prevent mental decline. But some fish can pose risks, particularly if you’re pregnant, due to high mercury levels. Fish such as king mackerel, shark, swordfish, and canned light tuna are consistently high in mercury, which can harm the nervous system of a fetus or young child. While the level of harm to the occasional fish-eater is unclear, our safety experts advise women who are pregnant, nursing, or may become pregnant and young children should avoid fish that have the most mercury.

Risks posed by mercury-containing to other populations is uncertain, however, anyone consuming fish should be concerned about harboring too much mercury. Studies show populations that consume large quantities of fish show that the accumulation of mercury in the body can be a health concern. Certain contaminants sometimes found in fish, such as dioxins and PCBs, have been linked to some cancers and reproductive problems. You can minimize your exposure to these contaminants by choosing varieties of fish that have lower levels of pollutants, for example, wild salmon, tilapia, trout, and sardines and by following our guidelines on fish consumption.

Ginger Skinner

Read more on the benefits of fish and see the evidence for fish in fighting heart disease (subscribers only). And for more on choosing safer fish, see our recommendations on lowering your exposure to mercury and take a look at the FDA’s list of mercury levels in fish.

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