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.
The information on this page has been compiled from Dr. Greger’s research. Sources for each video listed can be found by going to the video’s page and clicking on the Sources Cited tab. References may also be found at the back of his books.
Image Credit: SvetlanaK / Thinkstock. This image has been modified.
Popular Videos for Fish
All Videos for Fish
Pesticides (DDT) and Alzheimer’s Disease
How can we avoid the breakdown product of pesticides that may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease as much as if you carried APOE e4, the so-called Alzheimer’s gene?
Which Foods Are Anti-Inflammatory?
Foods that reduce inflammation. What does an anti-inflammatory diet look like?
The Role Meat May Play in Triggering Parkinson’s Disease
What does the gut have to do with developing Parkinson’s disease?
Diet for Hypothyroidism: A Natural Treatment for Hashimoto’s Disease
What were the results of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of a half teaspoon of powdered black cumin a day in Hashimoto’s (autoimmune thyroiditis) patients?
The Human Health Effects of Cultivated Meat: Chemical Safety
More than 95 percent of human exposure to industrial pollutants like dioxins and PCBs comes from fish, other meat, and dairy.
The Best Diet for Crohn’s Disease Treatment
Switching to a plant-based diet has been shown to achieve far better outcomes than those reported on conventional treatments in both active and quiescent stages in both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
The Health Effects of Mycoprotein (Quorn) Products vs. BCAAs in Meat
Clinical trials on Quorn show that it can improve satiety and help people control cholesterol, blood sugar, and insulin levels.
Plant-Based Protein: Are Pea and Soy Protein Isolates Harmful?
What are the different impacts of plant protein versus animal protein, and do the benefits of plant proteins translate to plant protein isolates?
How to Reverse Heart Failure with Diet
An entire issue of a cardiology journal dedicated to plant-based nutrition explores the role an evidence-based diet can play in the reversal of congestive heart failure.
Which Foods Have the Lowest Carbon Footprint?
How much greenhouse gas does the production of different foods cause measured in miles driven or lightbulb hour equivalents?