How often you should eat fish seems to be a reasonably simple question. The answer, however, is incredibly complex. This is because there are numerous things that will determine how often you, as an individual, should eat fish. For instance, you may have specific health concerns, you may have a particular like or dislike of a certain fish, and your weight is important, whether you are pregnant or nursing a baby. Another factor is what your fish portion size is.
Benefits of Eating Fish
Fish is incredibly tasty, and it has a number of very important health benefits. For instance, it is an excellent source of protein, low in bad cholesterol, and filled with omega 3 fatty acids, which we need for our overall health. This is why the American Heart Association recommends that you eat fish at least two times per week to protect the health of your heart.
The benefits come from omega-3 fatty acids. While fish oil supplements are popular, the American Heart Association does not consider them a sufficient replacement for eating fish. Whenever you eat fish, you are cutting something else from your diet, particularly other protein sources that may be less healthy and higher in saturated fats.
Who Should Refrain from Eating Too Much Fish?
What this means, therefore, is that we should eat a variety of oily fish, like herring, tuna, salmon, and mackerel, at least twice per week. However, while the majority of people can eat fish without placing themselves at risk of disease, women who are pregnant or nursing, and very young children, do have to be cautious. This is because fish may contain methylmercury, which is a form of mercury that can be risky for these population groups.
Large amounts of methylmercury eaten over weeks to months have caused damage to the nervous system. Infants born to women who were poisoned with methylmercury had developmental abnormalities and cerebral palsy.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued guidelines on how much fish you should eat as well.
The draft updated advice cautions pregnant or breastfeeding women to avoid four types of fish that are associated with high mercury levels: tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico; shark; swordfish; and king mackerel. In addition, the draft updated advice recommends limiting consumption of white (albacore) tuna to 6 ounces a week.
Importance of Knowing the Type of Fish to Eat
Due to the pollution of our oceans and freshwater bodies, mercury can be found everywhere. As a rule of thumb, the largest, oldest fish, as well as fish that live on a fish diet, have the highest levels of mercury. As a result of this, the type of fish does also matter. To protect yourself from mercury, therefore, you need to consider which fish you eat, how often you eat it, and what your portion size is.
There are some rules of thumb to be aware of to help you determine how much fish you should eat. First, try to choose fish like certain salmons, sardines, shrimp, whiting, tilapia, herring, oysters, clams, and anchovies, as these have lower mercury levels. If you eat high mercury fish (orange roughy, halibut, eel, swordfish, sharks, Chilean sea bass, and tuna steaks or sushi), try to reduce how often you eat it fish. Third, make sure you eat a wide variety of different fish, so you don’t have to completely cut out those that have high levels of mercury. Lastly, make sure you control your portion size, particularly if you eat high mercury fish.
So is there such a thing as too much fish? Absolutely. As with everything in life, it is about controlling your portions and eating a varied, balanced diet. While there is such a thing as too much fish, however, too little fish is perhaps even worse for your health.