HEALTH: Shop Smart – How to Select the Right Types of Fish

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By Dr. Lydia

Scientific studies have shown that eating fish on a regular basis lessens the risk of chronic diseases and can help you live longer. As a great source of healthy fats and protein, these little swimmers are a wise addition to your regular diet. The down side, eating fish can put one at risk for exposure to environmental toxins. Also, there are some fish populations that have been depleted by over-fishing leading to negative environmental consequences. Today’s article will discuss selecting the healthiest, most environmentally responsible fish.

Most North Americans are deficient in omega-3s and fish can offer us the most concentrated source of this type of healthy fat. A diet rich in omega-3s offers so many benefits. As a potent anti-inflammatory, these fats can reduce our risk for certain types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression and Alzheimer’s disease. Very few nutrients have such a wide spread health benefit. It only makes sense to learn about what type of fish are right for you.

The most important thing to remember when shopping for fish is that you want to avoid fish that eat other fish. The reason for this is due to a process called biomagnification. Let’s take an environmental toxin like PCBs for example. PCB is a pollutant that takes a very long time to be broken down and persists for many years in the environment. PCBs have been found in tiny plankton, which are at the bottom of the food chain in a marine environment. If a small fish eats plankton, it also eats all of the PCBs. Now, when a larger fish comes along and eats a few contaminated small fish it also consumes all of the PCB found in the individual small fish, which can really add up. In fact, fish can concentrate up to nine million times more toxins than the water they swim in.

Examples of fish that are on the top of the food chain are swordfish, shark, marlin, Ahi tuna and orange roughy. Although it is hard to resist a bake and shark on the beach in Trinidad, these fish really should be avoided entirely. Safer fish include herring, mackarel, sardines, haddock and tilapia. Seafood like scallops, shrimp and crab are also less risky.

As consumption of fish rises some wild fish populations are beginning to dwindle. Black sea bass, snapper, and atlantic salmon are among the most endangered. As a general rule, fish from the Atlantic tend to be more endangered than fish from the Pacific. So, if given a choice choose a fish from Pacific waters. Losing a species of fish can impact an entire ecosystem, with serious consequences.

Some fish, like salmon, are farmed in giant pens. At first this was seen as a way of saving natural, wild fish populations, but unfortunately this is not the case. Farmed salmon tend to be subject to more antibiotics as infections can run rampant when animals are contained in a closed environment. The fish tends to have less omega-3s and poorer quality protein. What few people know is that it actually takes pounds of wild fish to feed these farmed fish, which really doesn’t improve on the environment at all.

Shop smart and choose wild, little fish from Pacific waters. My top fish selections for health and sustainability: Pacific cod, albacore tuna, sardines, and sablefish. One more note, deep fried fish sticks are not a health food.

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