19 October 2006

To Eat or Not To Eat Fish

To eat fish, or not to eat fish: that is the question:
Whether 'tis healthier for the body to consume
The salmons and the tunas of the mighty oceans,
Or to take arms against conflicting reports,
And by opposing end them?

There were two conflicting health studies released yesterday that will probably send more confusion to the public than enlighten them.

First is the Harvard report published in JAMA, that heralds the 36 percent (wow!!) reduced risk of dying from heart attacks if people will have "modest fish consumption" --- around 1-2 servings per week. Eating fish rich in omega-3 oils can also reduced total deaths by 17 percent (wow, again!!), according to the same study. The conclusion read: "the benefits of fish intake exceed the potential risks."

Second is the 400-page report of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences (download the 8MB+ pdf file here and here), also released yesterday, was more prudent in its conclusion saying that while there is indeed existing medical evidence that fish oils can deter dying from heart attacks, it recommended that government health authorities should revise its health messages on who should eat what seafood.

The good in eating fish --- you get protein and those heart-protective omega fish oils.

The bad part --- there's a lot of harmful contaminants in them like mercury, dioxins, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

So, what should we do?

To eat fish or not to eat fish?

Do the benefits really outweigh the risks?

Prof. Julie Caswell of the University of Massachusetts has sound comments:
"The balance of benefits and risks are different for different groups in the population. We're recognizing that you could have all the guidance in the world, but it must get in supermarkets and restaurants where people make decisions on what to eat."

What are these different-strokes-for-different-folks she's talking about?

  1. For Pregnant, Breastfeeding Moms, and Children up to 12 years - should eat about 350 grams of fish rich in omega fish oils per week, but avoid large predatory fish such as shark, swordfish, tilefish and king mackerel. The present recommendations state that pregnant and breastfeeding moms can eat canned tuna, but I beg to differ. I think these moms should temporarily refrain from eating canned tuna while pregnant or breastfeeding. Canned tuna is a tricky food item; it has lots of omega oils and it also has lots of mercury. People should be knowledgeable about the difference between white-style tuna and light-style tuna. Children should eat only 170 grams of white-style tuna per week.

  2. For Adult Men and Women at Risk of Heart Disease - eat fish regularly and eat a variety of fish types to minimize the gravity of getting contaminated and poisoned with harmful mercury, dioxins, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

If you are still puzzled, study this list well and know your choices before buying in wet markets or supermarkets.

Oh, one more thing. If they have those health warnings on cigarette packs, can't we also ask markets and seafood restaurants to post eye-catching signs on their walls regarding the good and bad types of seafood to buy and eat?

The public should know. They must know they have a choice in what to eat and what NOT to eat.

8 reactions:

Sidney said...

The problem is that many people here in the Philippines are just frying the fish in... oil!
So fried fish in the morning, fried fish for dinner and fried fish for supper... you got the picture... :-(

Tani said...

I love Century tuna with calamansi. I'll take my chances. :)

I also love Salmon. I can eat salmon every meal. :)

Anonymous said...

I guess it really depends on the kind of fish you eat. Some books say tilapia is very good and high in Omega 3. I love tilapia!

bugsybee said...

I'm so happy with the list because I found out that anchovies - my all-time favorite - is actually good for me (but bad for my pocket).

ipanema said...

I wasn't able to read the list, but I love fish. I dont like bony fish. Coming from the South where fish abounds, I knew since young that fresh tuna contains mercury. So what they do is not to include the tail part when cooking. That's where it's found according to people at the wet market.


Filipinos love to fry fish because it goes together with vegetable dish cooked separately - pinakbet, chop suey, boiled green beans, etc. We love to eat. I think even poor people love to eat two dishes at a time. There's always vegie and a combination of fish or meat (pork chop, adobo, etc.)


Dr. Emer said...

SIDNEY: Maybe if they had more money, they'd have more choices. But as it is, fried fish as breakfast, fried fish as lunch, fried fish as dinner is already a course set for lucky Filipinos. There are those who spend days not eating, or worse, those who eat left-over food from garbage bins.

TANI: Be very careful with your choices. ;)

DUKE: Tilapia is ok, especially if its fishfarm-bred.

BUGSYBEE: Anchovies aren't that expensive if you know where to get them. I like them, too. The real health downside is its high-sodium content (bad for hypertensives) and in my case, its high uric acid content.

IPANEMA: I highly encourage you to read the list. Also, I woudn't describe "people at the wet market" as reliable when it comes to information about mercury contamination of fish body parts, in this case --- tuna. According to existing studies, mercury contamination in tuna happens not just in the tail part. There are no studies done locally (what did you expect?*LOL*), but one published report on Thunnus thynnus, or your blue-fin tuna, revealed significant mercury contamination in tuna muscles and liver, with mercury showing more affinity to muscles than the liver.

And what is tuna without its muscles?

Nothing, right? That means -- almost every tuna flesh you see might be contaminated with mercury. Be careful. Know your choices, and please take some time to read the list I provided in the post.

ipanema said...

That's more sensible Dr. Emer.
What did I learn with fishmonger's stories? Wrong info. :)

Anonymous said...

am sad... marlin is in the worst list but most of the fish i like is in the best list.

how about bangus? and maya-maya? and gindara? are they in the best or worst list?