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The Problem with Fish

by Randall Neustaedter OMD


A fishy story?

I thought fish was good for me, until I learned the sad facts. Salmon and other fish contain healthful omega-3 fats, except when they don’t. When wild fish eat algae and other creatures that also eat algae they will produce omega-3 fats. That’s why Eskimos have such a low incidence of heart disease. But farmed fish are usually fed grains, in which case they do not produce omega-3 fats . “Atlantic salmon” is a code word for fish raised on farms in Chile. Fish raised in this way are usually kept in overcrowded conditions and require antibiotics to keep them alive. Therefore the meat will contain these antibiotics and any pesticides used to farm the grain. Wild fish, however, are not safe either because of their mercury content. Industrial wastes that contain mercury find their way into rivers, lakes, and oceans. Algae absorb the toxic metal as an organic compound. Then fish absorb the mercury when they eat the algae. Cumulative doses ingested from contaminated fish can result in mercury toxicity. Fish is therefore not safe for pregnant women.

Another danger from farmed salmon

Most salmon consumed in the US (and other western countries) comes from fish farms where the fish are fattened with ground fish meal. Now the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has discovered that the small fish used in the fish meal have absorbed PCBs (pholychlorinated biphenyls) that are concentrated in the fat of farmed salmon. PCBs, used as industrial insulators, have been banned in the US since 1976 because they cause cancer, impair brain development, and weaken immune function. But PCBs persist in the environment. Three independent studies have found PCB contamination in nearly every sample of fish meal tested. The EWG reports that farmed salmon contain concentrations of PCBs that are 5 to 10 times higher than those found in salmon fished from the ocean. In addition to the 110 different PCBs, farmed salmon contains higher levels of 151 other chemical contaminants than wild salmon. Farmed salmon also contains higher levels of antibiotics, and the fat of farmed salmon contains 35 percent less omega-3 fats than wild salmon.

I advise you eat only wild salmon and limit your consumption even of that food source to once a month because of the potential mercury content.

What to eat?

On the other hand we all need more omega-3 fats in our diets, which can be derived from molecularly distilled fish oil, which is free of contaminants (2,000 mg EPA for adults), a DHA supplement derived from algae (Neuromins), pasture fed beef, organic free-range chickens and their eggs, sardines and herring, and raw dairy products from pasture fed cattle.

Avoid all large ocean fish (swordfish, tuna, shark, halibut, and mackerel), and limit your intake of crab. Other seafood is in danger of severe depletion ocean habitats (shrimp, rockfish or Pacific red snapper, Chilean sea bass, caviar, orange roughy, and king crab).

Remember that fish sticks, fast-food fish sandwiches, and deep-fried fish are devoid of omega-3 fats, and contain harmful trans-fats.

The EWG reports can be found at these links:

There are two safer ways to get omega-3 fats. Take fish oil capsules that contain the fatty acids EPA and DHA. Get 2,000 mg of EPA, and make sure the fish are from Scandinavian waters where pollution is minimal. Alternatively, flax seeds contain ALA, which is converted by an enzyme in our bodies to the usable fats DHA and EPA. Take one tablespoon of flax seed oil or grind one tablespoon of organic flax seeds in an electric coffee grinder. Keep all flax seed products refrigerated.