Is fish a health food? The question is, compared to what? Compared to some of the healthiest foods—for example, fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains—fish are low in antioxidants and phytonutrients, lacking fiber, and do contain some cholesterol and saturated animal fat. While the consumption of whole plant foods has been associated with longer protective telomeres, the tips on each of our chromosomes that keep our DNA from unraveling and fraying, in contrast, consuming refined grains, soda, dairy, and meat, including fish, has been linked to shortened telomeres, a sign of cellular aging.
Unless one can access a time machine and teleport back to the days before the Industrial Revolution, fish will remain the leading source of many toxic pollutants. In 2012, researchers published an analysis of the diets of kids aged two to seven. (Children are thought to be especially vulnerable to chemicals in the diet because they are still growing and thus have a comparatively greater intake of food and fluids relative to their weight.) Chemicals and heavy metals in kids’ bodies from the foods they ate were indeed found to exceed safety levels by a larger margin than in adults. Cancer risk ratios, for instance, were exceeded by a factor of up to 100 or more. For every child studied, benchmark levels were surpassed for arsenic, the banned pesticide dieldrin, and potentially highly toxic industrial by-products called dioxins. They were also too high for DDE, a by-product of DDT.
Which foods contributed the most heavy metals? The number-one food source of arsenic was poultry among preschoolers and, for their parents, tuna. The top source for lead? Dairy. For mercury? Seafood. Eating just a single serving of fish each week during pregnancy, for example, can lead to more mercury in their infant’s body than injecting them directly with about a dozen mercury-containing vaccines.
Where in the food supply are these pollutants found? Today, most DDT comes from meat, particularly fish. The oceans seem to have become, essentially, humanity’s sewer: Everything eventually flows into the sea. The same is true when it comes to dietary exposure to PCBs—another set of banned chemicals. A study of more than 12,000 food and feed samples across 18 countries found that the highest PCB contamination was found in fish and fish oil, followed by eggs, dairy, and then other meats. The lowest contamination was found at the bottom of the food chain, in plants.
Hexachlorobenzene, another pesticide banned nearly a half century ago, today may be found mainly in dairy and meat, including fish. Perfluorochemicals, or PFCs? Overwhelmingly found in fish and other meats. The contaminants in fish may help explain studies showing an association between fish consumption and diabetes. To lower our pollutant exposure, we should try to eat as low on the food chain as possible.
Image Credit: SvetlanaK / Thinkstock. This image has been modified.
Popular Videos for Fish
All Videos for Fish
How Much Microplastic Is Found in Fish Fillets?
How many plastic particles per serving have been found in the fish muscle itself?
Are Microplastics in Seafood a Cancer Risk?
Plastic particles may exacerbate the pollutant contamination of fish.
Microplastic Contamination & Seafood Safety
Can ingested plastic particles from fish get into our bloodstream?
How the Dairy Industry Designs Misleading Studies
How the meat and dairy industries design studies showing their products have neutral or even beneficial effects on cholesterol and inflammation.
Benefits of a Macrobiotic Diet for Diabetes
What happens when you add massive amounts of carbs to the daily diet of type 2 diabetics in the form of whole grains?
Dietary Supplements for Autism
Vitamin C, vitamin D, and omega-3 fish oil supplements put to the test to improve the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder.
The Best Advice on Diet and Cancer
What the best available balance of evidence says right now about what to eat and avoid to reduce your risk of cancer.
How to Treat Jet Lag with Melatonin-Rich Food
There may be a way to get the benefits of over-the-counter melatonin supplements without the risk.
How to Shop for, Handle, & Store Chicken
Poultry is the most common cause of serious food-poisoning outbreaks, followed by fish, then beef. But wait, aren’t people more likely to order their burgers rarer than their chicken sandwiches? The primary location where outbreaks occur is the home, not restaurants.
Is Organic Meat Less Carcinogenic?
Researchers tested 76 samples of different kinds of meat, both organic and conventional, for 33 different carcinogens.
Carcinogens in Meat
Eight preparation methods to reduce exposure to carcinogens in cooked meat.
How to Lower Heavy Metal Levels with Diet
What dietary change can simultaneously help detoxify mercury, lead, and cadmium from the body?