By Cara Rosenbloom, RD
Dietary guidelines suggest that Americans eat at least two (3.5 oz.) servings of fish each week, and for good reason. Fish is a great source of protein and omega-3 fats, and contributes vitamins and minerals to the diet, including selenium, vitamin D, iron and zinc.
Eating enough fish helps protect heart health, lower blood pressure and improve blood vessel function, especially when you choose fatty fish such as salmon, trout and sardines. Fish may also help reduce the risk of depression and Alzheimer’s disease. The trouble is, most Americans aren’t eating enough fish. About half of all Americans eat fish only occasionally or not at all.
Why is our fish intake so low? Some people simply don’t like fish, while others don’t know how to prepare it. And others are worried about possible contaminants such as mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
Is this fear warranted? Researchers have calculated that if 100,000 people ate farmed salmon twice a week for 70 years, the extra PCB intake could potentially cause 24 extra deaths from cancer — but would prevent at least 7,000 deaths from heart disease. Levels of PCBs and dioxins in fish are very low, similar to levels in meats, dairy products and eggs.
To avoid excess mercury, especially if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or feeding young children, watch local fish advisories. Steer clear of shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. Instead, choose shrimp, canned light tuna or salmon — which happen to be the most popular types of fish for eating in the U.S. anyway.