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For health reasons, I'm trying to eat more fish, but then I think of mercury. Should I be concerned? Is one fish better than another in terms of mercury retention? Where should I get my fish?

Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet — containing high-quality protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat and contain omega-3 fatty acids. A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish can contribute to heart health and children's proper growth and development. So, women and young children, in particular, should include fish or shellfish in their diets.

Nearly all fish and shellfish, however, contain traces of mercury. For most, the risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern. Yet, some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child's developing nervous system. The risks from mercury in fish and shellfish depend upon the amount eaten and the levels of mercury in that fish and shellfish. Therefore, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are advising women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children to avoid some types of fish and shellfish that are higher in mercury.

By following these recommendations for selecting and eating fish and shellfish, women and young children will receive the benefits of eating fish and shellfish and be confident that they have reduced their exposure to the harmful effects of mercury.

Do not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish; they contain high levels of mercury.

High-risk populations should eat no more than two or three meals, 12 ounces total, of low-mercury fish and shellfish a week. If you're in a high-risk population, don't eat the skin and fatty parts of fish, where pollutants collect.

The BEST fish to eat are those that are:

  • Low in mercury
  • Not over-fished or farmed destructively

Shrimp, salmon, tuna, tilapia, trout and abalone are all great, safe fish to eat. Other great options include herring, flounder and lobster. The Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency both recommend limiting fish consumption by category, not by individual species. For example, both cod and mahi mahi are moderate-mercury fish, and only one type from this category should be eaten per month — not one meal of cod and one of mahi mahi.

Critical points here are to be aware of your fish vendor (and the origination of the fish) and if you have any fish allergies. For ideas on more ocean-friendly seafood to consume, go to the EDF Seafood Selector guide or the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch.

Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local lakes, rivers and coastal areas; if no advice is available, eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) per week of fish you catch from local waters, but don't consume any other fish during that week

As you know the best quality seafood comes through local wholesale distributors who supply restaurants and Country Clubs. Because they are not readily available to the public, we are very lucky to have here in the St. Louis area two top-notch seafood retail shops. They are Bob's Seafood at I-170 and Delmar in University City and Whole Foods Market at Brentwood Square just south of The Galleria on Brentwood Boulevard. They both have extremely knowledgeable staff members and a large variety of the freshest seafood anyone could dream of.

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