Everything you need to know about the benefits — and drawbacks — of adding fish to your diet

Eating fish has some benefits and potential drawbacks. Getty Images/Phil Walter

  • Some fish varieties contain a lot of vitamins and nutrients.
  • Fish can also contain toxins like mercury, which isn’t always as harmful as you’d think.
  • Some types of fish typically contain fewer toxins than others.
  • Eating fish isn’t for everyone and there are other alternatives to eating fish that could still provide nutrients.

Fish is typically considered part of a balanced, healthy diet according to the government’s dietary guidelines. And although consuming fish isn’t for everyone, there are a lot of benefits and stigma that come with it.

Eating fish can come with some major benefits

Consuming raw fish isn’t recommended for everyone. Peterjhpark/Wikimedia Commons

According to Livestrong, many varieties of fish are rich in vitamin A, vitamin D, calcium, and magnesium.

Plus, some varieties are high in omega-3 fatty acids that, according to the Washington State Department of Health, can lower your blood pressure, reduce your risk of arthritis, and decrease the risk of depression, Alzheimer’s, dementia, diabetes, and ADHD.

A 2006 report from two Harvard School of Public Health professors also found that an appropriate intake of fish every week can lower a person’s chances of dying from heart disease.

But, consuming fish can come with a few risks that can be reduced

The FDA lists cod as being low in mercury. Rool Paap/Flickr

Fish can contain some contaminants – including mercury, Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), and other toxins.

But, these toxins are more common than you think and many common foods contain more toxins than fish. A Harvard report found that the toxic PCBs are actually more present in other foods than in fish. Upwards of 90% of PCBs and dioxins can be found in non-seafood sources like meat, dairy, eggs, and vegetables.

There’s also insufficient evidence on the effects of long-term mercury consumption from eating fish, so Harvard reported that the FDA doesn’t recommend that adults limit their fish intake based on fear of toxins alone.

Some fish tend to contain more toxins than others

Fish cod
Some fish have less mercury than others. iStock

The FDA reported that fish with longer life spans accumulate more toxins over time, so those concerned about mercury consumption should aim to eat fish with shorter life expectancies. The FDA even has a chart that indicates which seafood choices are the lowest and highest in mercury.

For example, the FDA lists canned tuna, cod, salmon, and shrimp among some of the best low-mercury choices. And they suggest avoiding fish with high mercury levels, like king mackerel, marlin, and bigeye tuna.

Ultimately, the suggested serving size for you can depend on age and a variety of health factors, so it’s best to consult your doctor when deciding how much fish to consume during the week.

There are other ways to get vitamins and nutrients if you don’t eat fish

Shrimp risotto
Fish can contain a lot of vitamin A. Giuliano Griffante/Flickr

Not everyone enjoys fish or chooses to eat it. There are plenty of alternatives to eating fish that can help you to incorporate nutrients and vitamins into your diet.

Ultimately, the amount of fish you consume is up to you. In cases where you may be unsure of what to be consuming and how much to consume it’s best to consult your doctor to ensure you’re consuming the right nutrients for your body.

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