CLEVELAND - There's a serious health concern about eating some kinds of fish. Many popular varieties contain high levels of mercury. To find out just how much, Consumer Reports analyzed Food and Drug Administration research and can tell you the fish that are safer for you and which to avoid.
Eating fish can be a great choice. It's an excellent, low-fat source of protein and other nutrients -including omega-3 fatty acids, which might help protect your heart, and -- if you're pregnant -- boost your baby's brain development.
But, there's a catch. Some seafood contains high levels of a form of mercury, called methylmercury.
"Mercury can damage the brain, and it can damage the nervous system, especially when that exposure occurs in the womb," said Dr. Michael Crupain from Consumer Reports.
The government advises young children and women who are pregnant, breast-feeding, or might become pregnant, to avoid the four fish with the highest mercury levels: swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico. The FDA is also considering adding marlin and orange roughy to the list.
Consumer Reports' food-safety experts agree but have additional concerns about tuna. Tuna accounts for 40 percent of our mercury exposure. Most of that is from canned tuna. Fresh tuna, popular in sushi, can also be especially high in mercury. "To be safe, Consumer Reports recommends that pregnant women not eat any tuna at all. And children and anyone who eats a lot of fish should really limit the amount of tuna they eat," explained Dr. Crupain.
So, how can you eat seafood without exposing yourself to too much mercury? Some good choices include: Wild and Alaska salmon, canned or fresh; shrimp; sardines; tilapia; scallops; oysters and squid.
All of this discussion about fish doesn't mean you should skip it. In fact, for the first time, the Food and Drug Administration has just said how much fish women who are pregnant, breast-feeding, or trying to get pregnant should be eating. The minimum is at least eight ounces a week of a variety of fish lower in mercury.