How to Avoid Mercury
in Fish You Eat

Lighten Your Toxic Load: Avoid Eating Mercury In Fish

mercury fish

No doubt you've heard it's "healthy" to eat fish. On the other hand... may feel like you're supposed to be avoiding fish because you've heard they're "contaminated."

What's a well intentioned healthy eater to do...give up and eat fast food?! I think not!

Including fish regularly is an important part of a healthy diet. Fish is a great source of protein, low in saturated fat, and contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids that most of us don't get enough of. The American Heart Association, The National Academy of Science and The World Health Organization all recommend including fish regularly.

The key is choosing the right fish.

Mercury in Fish: The Facts

It's true. Nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury. However, some have more than others.

There's no escaping's everywhere. It occurs naturally in the environment...approximately 2,700 to 6,000 tons of mercury are released annually into the atmosphere by degassing from the Earth's crust and oceans.

Another 2,000 to 3,000 tons are released annually into the atmosphere by human activities, primarily from burning household and industrial wastes, and especially from fossil fuels such as coal.

Mercury vapor is easily transported in the atmosphere...

...and what goes up, must eventually come down.

Mercury falls from the air into streams and oceans and is turned into a highly toxic form, called methylmercury, by bacteria in the water.

Methymercury then accumulates in the algae and other plant life that small fish eat. The big fish eat the small fish.

It makes sense then, that large predatory fish and those that have long life spans begin to accumulate methylmercury. This being the case, it's best to avoid those fish that are high up on the food chain, and choose the lower mercury fish most often.

Mercury in Fish: Fish with High Levels of Mercury (AVOID)

  • Swordfish
  • Tilefish
  • King Mackerel
  • Shark

Mercury in Fish: Fish with Moderate Levels Of Mercury (Limit intake to 6 oz. per month)

  • Bass (saltwater, black, striped, Chilean)
  • Bluefish
  • Buffalo fish
  • Carp
  • Grouper (all)
  • Halibut (Pacific)
  • Lobster (Northern/American)
  • Mackerel (Spanish)
  • Marlin
  • Monkfish
  • Orange Roughy
  • Perch(Freshwater)
  • Sablefish
  • Snapper
  • Tuna (Albacore, Bigeye, Yellowfin, troll/pole caught)
  • Tuna (Bigeye)
  • Tuna (Skipjack)
  • Tuna (Yellowfin)

Mercury in Fish: Fish with Low Levels of Mercury (Choose these most often!)

  • Anchovies*
  • Butterfish
  • Catfish (US organic farmed)
  • Clams (farmed)
  • Cod (Pacific, trap or hook and line caught)
  • Crab (Dungeness, Canada Snow, Stone)
  • Crawfish
  • Flounder
  • Haddock
  • Herring (Atlantic)*
  • Lobster (spiny, Maine)
  • Mackerel (Atlantic, Chub)
  • Mahi Mahi
  • Mussels (farmed)
  • Oysters (farmed)
  • Perch (Ocean)
  • Pollock (wild Alaskan)
  • Salmon (wild Alaskan or canned)*
  • Sardines*
  • Scallops
  • Shrimp
  • Sole
  • Squid
  • Tilapia (farmed)
  • Trout (rainbow)*
  • Tuna (canned, light)
  • Whitefish*

*high in beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids as well!

Here's a list from the government of exact levels of mercury in fish (parts per million).

Eat Food...Not Chemicals!

Looking for other ways
to lighten your toxic load?

Avoid mercury in fish
Consider organics when possible
Use this organic produce priority list
Improve Omega 3/Omega 6 ratio
Steer clear of food additives
Limit processed foods
Drink clean water
Know where toxins hide
Don't let label claims mislead you
Top 10 detox foods
Be scared of Frankenfoods!

Mercury in Fish: Who's At Greatest Risk?

Mercury toxicity can result in memory loss, tremors and increased risk for certain types of cancer.

High levels of mercury are especially toxic to an unborn baby or a young child's developing nervous system.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have therefore issued warnings to avoid high mercury fish altogether and choose only low mercury fish (limit up to 12 oz./week) in particular for:

  • Women who may become pregnant
  • Pregnant women
  • Nursing mothers
  • Young children

There are definitely legitimate concerns regarding the contaminants in fish, but experts (including me) agree the benefits of eating the right kinds of fish far outweigh the risks.

So use the resources above to pick fish you'll enjoy and experience health benefits from.

More on healthy eating.

Back to Personal Nutrition Guide Home.