Many people love to eat fish, whether they bake it, smoke it, or eat it raw in sushi. Fish is a great source of many essential nutrients and it comes in a variety of textures and flavors depending on what species they are and where they are caught.
Although fish is a staple food for almost all communities across the globe, there has been a lot of concern regarding their mercury content, and it has proven to be difficult to reduce exposure to this mercury without completely avoiding fish.
Fish & Mercury Poisoning
The most common way people are exposed to mercury nowadays is through eating fish. Fish are contaminated with mercury through pollution caused by coal-burning factories that settles into lakes, rivers and oceans.
The fish we eat absorb this mercury through a process called “bioaccumulation”. This is the process through which the mercury travels from organism to organism throughout the food chain. It starts off by being absorbed by plankton, which is then eaten by crustaceans and small fish.
These smaller animals are then eaten by larger predatory fish, where mercury levels can build up to dangerous amounts. Commonly eaten carnivorous fish that usually have high mercury levels include freshwater bass, walleye, pike, swordfish, mackerel and tuna. Mercury levels in these fish can accumulate to millions of times higher than the levels in the surrounding water.
Dangers of Mercury Poisoning
Although these incredibly high mercury levels generally have little to no effect on the health of the fish, there have been many cases of severe mercury poisoning in humans due to consumption of these fish that have resulted in hospitalization and death.
One example of widespread mercury poisoning occurred in Japan during the 1950’s. The Chisso Corporation, a Japanese chemical company, had released liquid waste containing mercury into Minamata Bay. The mercury was then absorbed into the ecosystem and accumulated in the marine wildlife that the locals then ate. This resulted in the death of over 1,000 people and also severely impacted the fetuses of many pregnant women who were exposed to the mercury.
Symptoms of mercury poisoning include:
- Muscle twitching
- Muscles weakness
- Loss of coordination
- Impairment of speech and hearing
How to Avoid Mercury Poisoning
In order to avoid mercury poisoning, you have to make sure that you have a relatively low amount of mercury in your body. There are a variety of ways to lower your body’s mercury level, but the best way to do this is to avoid foods that are high in mercury and to eat foods that are low in mercury.
Since I already told you about how it is the largest fish that have the highest mercury levels (Swordfish, shark, mackerel, tuna, bass etc.) I’ll show you which fish have the lowest mercury levels.
These are usually the smaller fish that don’t consume as much food as the larger predatory ones, meaning that there is not enough mercury in their diet to cause a build up. These fish include salmon, tilapia, cod and catfish.
Aside from choosing fish options that are low in mercury, another way you can avoid mercury poisoning is by eating foods that contain chelating compounds. These compounds bind to the mercury in your bloodstream and remove it from the body in the form of waste. Foods that are rich in chelating compounds include:
- Brazil nuts
- Pumpkin seeds
Try pairing or seasoning some of the low-mercury species of fish with these foods to get all of the benefits of fish without having to worry about the side effects of mercury exposure. To learn more about the effects of mercury in the fish you eat, click here.