Fish is a healthy lean protein source but many folks avoid it because they are afraid of the mercury content. But the nutritional value of fish is very important.

Fish for the family

Image Cooked Fish Image Cooked Fish Image Cooked Fish

Fish is a healthy lean protein source but many folks avoid it because they are afraid of the mercury content. Mercury is a naturally occurring metal. It is found in the environment and is produced by microscopic organisms in soil and water. A high exposure to mercury has been linked to brain and nervous system problems, most especially in fetuses, infants and young children. But the nutritional value of fish is very important. 

The benefits of fish include:

  • Good fetal growth
  • Improved visual and cognitive development in infants

These are the fish intake recommendations from the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency:

  • For women of childbearing age: 8-12 ounces of a variety of fish per week
  • For young children one to two serving a week, starting at age two                     

These larger fish are high in mercury content and should not be eaten by women of childbearing age or young children:

  • Tilefish
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Orange roughy
  • Bigeye tuna
  • King mackerel

Canned tuna is a commonly eaten fish, and there are guidelines for this fish also:

  • Albacore (white): 1 serving per week
  • Light tuna: 2-3 servings per week

Fish that are considered Best Choices because of lower mercury content and can be eaten two to three times per week: cod, flounder, haddock, light tuna, perch, salon, shrimp, sole, tilapia, whiting.

Fish that are considered Good Choices to include once per week: grouper, halibut, mahi mahi, snapper, albacore tuna.

The entire fish recommendation listing is available at www.epa.gov.

Recipes to try:

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About the Author

Rita Smith is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's been working in the field of nutrition and disease prevention for more than 35 years and currently works at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va. Each week, Rita provides nutrition counseling to clients who have a variety of disorders or diseases including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroparesis and weight management. For these clients, food choices can help them manage their health problems.