Fish and shellfish are low in fat, high in protein, and good sources of iodine, vitamin D, and selenium—nutrients often deficient in the American diet. Many fish are rich in “good fats,” particularly polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids. The two most beneficial types of fats, DHA and EPA, have been shown to reduce inflammation and severity of heart and retinal diseases.
Research shows that children born to mothers who ate low-mercury seafood during pregnancy experienced better functioning brain and nervous systems. Additionally, a diet rich in omega-3s has been shown to lower blood triglycerides and decrease the risk of sudden death from heart disease.
Despite these benefits, there is cause for concern. Decades of industrial activity have contaminated our waterways with mercury and other pollutants. These contaminants end up in seafood. Most commercial fish and shellfish contain some mercury; however, concentrations vary depending on the age of the fish, region of harvest, and the fish’s diet. Problems that arise from mercury exposure stem from a combination of factors: amount/dose, method of exposure (ingestion, inhalation, skin contact), and exposure length. We are all exposed to low levels of mercury. Exposure can occur through contaminated drinking water; foods grown in contaminated soil; a diet high in mercury-laden fish/shellfish; medical procedures (dental, vaccination); and accidental/occupational exposure to industrial waste. The best way to avoid consuming contaminated seafood is by opting to eat only wild-caught seafood.
Which Fish Are the Healthiest?
Which fish are richest in healthy omega- 3 fatty acids and low in mercury? You’re not going to find that information in the grocery store, but the Environmental Working Group provides an extensive analysis of seafood. Their consumer-friendly guidelines illustrate which fish are safest/healthiest to eat and which fish to avoid.
Here’s a summary of their listing:
Very high omegas, low mercury:
Wild salmon, sardines, mussels, rainbow trout, Atlantic mackerel
High omegas, low mercury:
Oysters, anchovies, herring
Low mercury, lower omegas:
Shrimp, catfish, tilapia, clams, scallops
Increasing levels of mercury:
Canned light and albacore tuna, halibut, mahi-mahi, sea bass
shark, swordfish, marlin, king mackerel, tilefish
As listed by the Environmental Working Group, mussels are a low-fat source of protein and provide selenium, a mineral that is essential for immune function. Mussels supply your body with vitamins B and C, iron, phosphorus, manganese, and zinc. For a great meal idea, in a deep pot, heat grapeseed oil or butter until melted and add garlic and scallions; sauté for 2-3 minutes until garlic is tender. Add wine, lemon, and pepper, and bring to a boil. Add mussels, cover, and lower heat to maintain a simmer. Allow to simmer for 1-2 minutes, then stir and quickly replace the lid. After 1 more minute, add parsley, cover, and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, until all (or most) of mussels have opened. Serve immediately including both mussels and broth in the bowl. To make an even healthier dish, consider serving with a tossed green salad with oil and vinegar dressing.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Often thought of only as garnish for a pretty plate, parsley is a delicious, vibrant green herb with many culinary uses and health benefits. As a member of the celery family, parsley is a vitamin-dense herb. A one half-cup serving provides exceptional amounts of vitamins K, C, and A, as well as, being rich in folate and iron. Parsley also contains volatile oils and flavonoids which provide unique health benefits. The active mechanisms of the volatile oil components qualify parsley as a “chemoprotective” food, which means it can help neutralize certain carcinogens. Flavonoids have been shown to function in the body as antioxidants, which can prevent oxygen damage to cells. Overall, because of its nutrient-rich antioxidant profile, parsley may offer health-protective benefits for the cardiovascular system, joints, and digestive system. Medicinally, parsley has been used in both ancient times and as a complementary treatment for symptoms of urinary tract infection and upset stomach.
To reap the benefits of parsley in your diet you can try adding raw parsley (stems and leaves) to salads; blending raw parsley with other herbs and fruits to make a “green smoothie”; or by sprinkling atop fish in the last few moments of grilling.