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Toxins in fish { June 26 2000 }

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Toxins in Fish?
How can I avoid eating contaminated fish?

By Elizabeth Somer, MA,RD

I want to include more fish in my diet but am afraid of toxins and pesticides. Which types should I avoid?

June 26, 2000 -- Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and herring are most likely to contain dangerous chemicals. The larger of these fish are potentially more toxic since they've been swimming and feeding longer in contaminated waters, and thus accumulating more chemicals in their fat tissues.

Pesticides, such as DDT and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), are the chemicals of greatest concern. While they were outlawed in the 1970s, their residues still pervade the ecosystem. And even if the number of such traces is on the decline, DDT used in other countries can eventually make its way into fish consumed in the United States.

The toxic metal mercury can also cause problems when it taints favorites like tuna, swordfish, and shark.

That's not to say that you should eliminate all these fish from your diet. Fish remain one of the healthiest, low-calorie sources of many nutrients, such as protein, the cholesterol-lowering omega-3 fatty acids, the B vitamins, fluoride, iodine, zinc, and iron. Canned salmon and sardines, bones included, are excellent nondairy sources of calcium.

Instead, try varying the types of fish you choose. There are plenty of smaller, leaner fish which are less likely to be contaminated; these include cod, flounder, haddock, Pacific halibut, ocean perch, pollock, and sole.

As for tuna, swordfish, and shark, if you're concerned about mercury, try not to eat more than one weekly serving of these fish. Because scientists have linked mercury to birth defects, women who are or might become pregnant should eat no more than one serving per month or avoid these fish altogether.

Elizabeth Somer is a registered dietitian and author of several books, including Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy, Food & Mood, and The Essential Guide to Vitamins and Minerals. She is co-author of The Nutrition Desk Reference and is on the advisory board of Shape magazine.

2000 Healtheon/WebMD. All rights reserved.

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