Seafood and your Health
We are often told that seafood is good for us. However, what is often overlooked is where all this fish is coming from. The sad reality is that globally, we are in the process of loving seafood to death.
The so-called 'Mediterranean' diet, consisting of lots of grains, fruit, vegetables, olive oil and seafood is often held up as the best way to eat if we aspire to live to a ripe old age. Perhaps it is a fitting irony that the Mediterraneans now look out over an impoverished sea that has collapsed under the ever increasing pressure to give up its fish.
While seafood can certainly be good for you, it is not essential. We don't need to eat seafood to live long, healthy lives. But we do need our seas to be healthy in order for the planet and its people to survive.
There are alternative sources of essential proteins and oils like Omega-3, for example, but there is no alternative to a healthy planet. On top of concerns about sustainability, many people who contact us are also concerned about contaminants in seafood. Here are some of the main health considerations:
Sources of toxins in seafood
Human-made toxins: Can contaminate seafood through environmental pollution, such as heavy metals (e.g. mercury and lead), industrial chemicals (e.g. PCBs, dioxins) and pesticides (e.g. dieldrin). These usually enter the marine environment from heavy industry or coastal agriculture. These potentially harmful chemicals can become concentrated in animals higher up the food web such as sharks and swordfish. Many of these top order predators and longer-lived fish are also the ones that are susceptible to overfishing.
Natural toxins: There are naturally occurring substances which can be present in some seafood species. For example, a toxin called ciguatera can work its way up the food chain and be present in high levels in large, predatory fish such as snapper, coral trout and mackerel. A range of shellfish toxins are regularly screened for in shellfish fisheries.
Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) is the government body responsible for testing seafood and advising seafood consumers about its health risks at a national level. Advice on seafood can be found here
The details of advice given for other countries may vary because the risk of mercury exposure from the diet depends on the environment in that country, the type of fish commonly caught and eaten, the patterns of fish consumption and the consumption of other foods that may also contain mercury. Therefore care is needed when consuming imported seafood.
Omega-3 fatty acids:
An essential fatty acid found in many seafood species (e.g. oily fish such as mackerel, herrings, sardines, salmon and tuna) which the human body is not able to produce. Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in flaxseed (also known as linseed) and walnuts.
The information provided here should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your personal physician or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have about seafood and your health.
Image credit: Aengus Moran