- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Eating seafood twice a week is good for your heart and generally outweighs the risk of exposure to mercury and other dangerous contaminants, the Institute of Medicine said yesterday.

Even so, the government needs to help consumers figure out which seafood is safer, an institute report said.

“The confusion may have scared people out of eating something that is beneficial for them and maybe for their offspring,” said Jose Ordovas, a Tufts University researcher and member of the report committee.

The findings from the institute, which advises the government on health policy, are in line with widely accepted government advice that eating fish and shellfish may reduce people’s risk of developing heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.

Researchers said it’s not clear how eating fish helps fight heart disease. It may be that beneficial omega-3 fatty acids offer some protection. Or that people eat less saturated fat and cholesterol when they choose leaner seafood instead of fatty cuts of meat.

Americans generally eat too much saturated fat and cholesterol and too little of the good omega-3 fatty acids, the report said. And evidence shows that eating seafood rich in omega-3s can contribute to vision and cognitive development in babies and help pregnant women carry babies to term, researchers said.

The Tuna Foundation and other industry groups said the report tells consumers not to let fears of mercury exposure stop them from enjoying the nutritional benefits of regular fish consumption.

Critics said the report will only worsen confusion about which people should avoid which fish.

Seafood is the main source of people’s exposure to methylmercury, which is linked to learning disabilities and developmental delays in children and to heart, nervous system and kidney damage in adults.

The report said pregnant women and children younger than 12:

• May benefit from eating seafood, especially seafood with higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.

• May eat 6 to 12 ounces of seafood a week, and that can include up to 6 ounces of albacore tuna. For children, a reasonable intake would be two 3-ounce servings “or age-appropriate servings.”

• Should avoid big predatory fish such as shark, swordfish, tilefish or king mackerel, which have higher mercury levels.

For healthy teenagers and adults and those at risk of heart problems, the report said, eating seafood may reduce the risk of heart disease. And if people eat more than two servings of seafood a week, they should eat different kinds of seafood to reduce the risk of exposure to contaminants.

Although the report does not list “good” or “bad” fish, it describes broad categories.

• Fatty fish such as salmon have the highest omega-3 levels but also have more saturated fat and cholesterol and can have higher levels of dioxin and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). They tend to have less mercury.

cShellfish and crustaceans are low in saturated fat but can have moderate amounts of cholesterol and present the greatest risk of microbial infection if eaten raw.

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