Opt­ing for fish? Con­sider these tips for health­ier meal choices


We know fish is im­por­tant for health — high in pro­tein, low in sat­u­rated fat, a good source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and rich in vi­ta­mins, such as vi­ta­mins D and B2, and min­er­als, in­clud­ing iron, io­dine, mag­ne­sium, and potas­sium.

Re­search shows that eat­ing fish once or twice a week may re­duce risk of sev­eral chronic con­di­tions, in­clud­ing stroke, de­pres­sion, Alzheimer’s dis­ease, and in the case of fatty fish, death from heart dis­ease.

But there are fish we’re bet­ter off avoid­ing, due to high mer­cury lev­els that can pose a health risk. This list of low mer­cury fish — SMASH — can help us make the health­ier choices.

What is SMASH?

The acro­nym SMASH stands for salmon, mack­erel, an­chovies, sar­dines and her­ring. These are the fish that are safest and health­i­est to eat. They are nu­tri­en­trich, high in omega-3s, and are low in mer­cury. Mer­cury is a nat­u­ral el­e­ment found all around us in air, wa­ter, and all liv­ing things, but in very small amounts.

All fish have at least some mer­cury in them, but lev­els vary widely by species. Most of these lev­els are far be­low what the U.S. has deemed al­low­able in seafood, but large and longer-liv­ing fish — like shark, sword­fish, large tuna — have the high­est amounts of mer­cury.

Mer­cury risk

Most of us have at least trace amounts of mer­cury in our bod­ies. The U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tions (CDC) data show that most of these lev­els are be­low those as­so­ci­ated with health risk.

Ex­po­sure to mer­cury most com­monly oc­curs when peo­ple eat fish with high lev­els in their tis­sues and this is as­so­ci­ated with se­ri­ous health is­sues — high lev­els can be toxic. A neu­ro­toxin — which means it af­fects the ner­vous sys­tem — mer­cury, in ex­cess, can im­pair vi­sion, co­or­di­na­tion, and speech, and can cause mus­cle weak­ness.

Re­search, in­clud­ing a study pub­lished in a 2020 is­sue of the jour­nal Biomolecul­es, has as­so­ci­ated higher lev­els of mer­cury in the brains of pa­tients with Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

Es­pe­cially at risk are women who are preg­nant or nurs­ing and young chil­dren, who should avoid fish known to have high lev­els of mer­cury. They should eat smaller fish — such as those on the SMASH list — and no more than two to three serv­ings of fish each week to min­i­mize ex­po­sure.

Eat fish

Eat­ing fish on the SMASH list pro­motes good health and pro­tects against many chronic diseases, in­clud­ing sev­eral risk fac­tors for heart dis­ease.

These fish are also good sources of:

• Omega-3s. These healthy fats are good for the heart.

• Se­le­nium. Of­ten lack­ing in the diet, it helps pro­tect against mer­cury tox­i­c­ity.

• Vi­ta­min D. Sup­ports im­mune func­tion, bone health, and pro­tects against heart dis­ease.

Bot­tom line

Min­i­mize mer­cury by lim­it­ing fish to two to three serv­ings per week, avoid eat­ing fish with high mer­cury lev­els, and en­joy­ing fish on the SMASH list.


Re­search shows that eat­ing fish once or twice a week is good for your health.

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