Are Fish and Seafood
Safe to Eat?
When talking about fish, one of the most common questions I'm asked is "What about the mercury found in fish?" We've been told that mercury poisoning can be a serious health threat, especially for pregnant women and children. We've also been told that over the years, many chemical manufacturers and power plants have released mercury into the air, from which it then settles into oceans and waterways, and accumulates in the fish we eat. So one would assume that the fish we eat now is significantly more toxic than fish consumed 100 years ago. However, several years ago I ran across a study that by analyzing skeletal remains, compared the DNA of today's tuna to that of tuna from 100 to 200 years ago.
The study found the mercury levels were approximately the same in all samples analyzed. Hmmm...isn't that interesting?
It suddenly became obvious it was time to step outside the box of "we live in a toxic world and if you eat fish you will die" and step into a new box of beliefs. But which box would that be?
Shortly after reading that study, I found myself in a conversation with a top cardiologist who pointed out some very interesting statistics. When comparing individuals from all developed nations, we find some of the healthiest are the Japanese. So it would make sense if we want to improve our overall health, we should incorporate some Japanese behaviors. In my early twenties I lived in Japan, not as an American observing the Japanese, but in Japanese group-housing, living and eating with my Japanese housemates. So I feel fairly qualified to make some intelligent observations as to what might account for their superior health.
The first is that my housemates ate fish three times a day. Hmmm...talk about yanking the rug right out from underneath someone's belief system. What's more, a large portion of the fish they consumed was caught off the shores of Japan. Now, let me put this into perspective. Japan is approximately the same size as California. Now take half the United States population and put it in California and you will have an idea as to what the population density in Japan is like.
Tsukiji Fish Market - Built on reclaimed land in Tokyo Harbor.
The Japanese are masters at reclaiming land...meaning they dump their garbage into the ocean, and miraculously turn it into soil that can be built on, expanding the shores of their small island. Do you get the picture as to what their oceans might be like??? Not only do they eat fish three times a day, but it may not be coming from the cleanest waters around. Does this have you scratching your head a bit wondering what gives?
Now let's add another interesting twist to this story. We dropped two atomic bombs on Japan during World War II. Not only did we pollute their soil and air, but the Japanese people have been exposed to radiation poisoning unlike anything we have experienced here in the United States. Yet, of all the developed nations, the Japanese people are some of the healthiest.
Having said all that, let's take a look at the fish we find in our local supermarkets here in the states.
Most fish in the stores is treated with sodium benzoate. It's bacteriostatic and fungicidal properties act as preservatives and extend the shelf life of the fish. Fish are treated prior to delivery to the stores so most grocers aren't even aware of this process. It's considered "a standard in the industry" which means it doesn't have to be disclosed to the consumer. Think about this, fresh fish has a three to five day shelf life between the day it's caught and the day it's consumed. If the fish you purchase was caught on the first day of a three-day season (meaning the fisherman was out at sea three days and caught your fish on day one) it's old by the time it hits shore. There is absolutely no way to get this fish processed, delivered to your grocer and onto your dinner plate without it spoiling first. Sodium benzoate serves a purpose in the food distribution system we find ourselves caught in.
On the other hand shrimp, scallops and prawns are all dipped and treated with tri-polyphosphates. Once treated, they absorb 25 percent more water which leads to two things. One, it increases the weight of the fish so when paying per pound, 25 percent of what you are buying is water (Same thing with extra lean burger...how many of you are aware they add water to increase the overall weight of the burger, which decreases the percentage of fat making it "extra lean"!) This is why, when cooked, the little critters shrivel up to microscopic specimens. The water exits as soon as they are cooked. In addition, the price per pound quoted for shrimp, scallops and prawns is based on their overall size which has just gone up 25 percent thanks to tri-polyphosphates. The larger the size, the higher the price per pound.
And how might these tri-polyphosphates affect your health? The calcium/phosphorus ratio is one of the most closely regulated ratios in your bloodstream. When you consume an abundance of phosphorus whether in treated fish or a can of Coke, it can weight this ratio to the phosphorus side. The body, in its' absolute perfection will then pull stores of calcium from the bones and teeth in order to keep this ratio in balance! When we look at our bodies this way we realize cavities and weak bones are literally the body's intelligence system in action. Once you recognize the effects of excess phosphorus, you can either choose to eat fish that isn't dipped in tri-polyphosphates or you can complement your meal with a calcium-rich food.
And tuna, now this is an interesting one. If you've ever eaten sushi and seen the lollipop red fleshed tuna, it has been gassed with carbon monoxide...or shall we use the more technical term...smokeless gas. It makes old brown fish look fresh. The United States is the only country that allows tuna to be treated in this manner. It does nothing to extend the shelf life or protect the consumer from harmful bacteria, it merely makes it look better for a longer period of time.
Tuna is like a peach, it starts to brown almost immediately after it is cut. When you know this you can make a more intelligent choice...select the darker, browner piece of tuna from your local market and leave the beautiful pink one for someone else.
In our family we eat fish everyday. Remember...I lived in Japan!
Shall we say old habits die hard! A common afterschool snack or sack lunch at our house is a bowl of fresh raw fish. And yes, even my kids' friends like it. One of my daughter's friends recently commented she loves visiting our house during meal times as she always leaves feeling so "nourished". Kind of makes you want to dive right in to a bowl of raw fish doesn't it?
For me, I want the cleanest, most healthful, least treated seafood available for my family. Fish is one of those foods where knowing your supplier can make a huge difference! Quality fish is fish that is purchased from a fisherman that was out on a one-day season and it's processed immediately after it hits shore. It's purchased whole, then cut, scaled, filleted, vacuum-sealed and quick frozen on shelves with air circulating across all surfaces of the fish, which keeps the cell structure intact.
For my family, I want halibut that has been air expressed down from Alaska instead of barged. And I want salmon that's caught at age three instead of age two as the omega 3's are higher. I'm not interested in fish that's been dipped, treated or gassed, and if it was farm raised, you can keep it...I don't want it!
So, how can you obtain fish of this caliber???
- Get to know your supplier.
- Find a supplier who has the same passion for fish you do, and who is willing to step outside the box.
- Educate yourself as to what makes fish a healing food and then work to create a demand for product.
- Organize a fish buying co-op, working directly with the fisherman and/or distributor.
- Forget about trying to buy "fresh" fish for dinner and focus on filling your freezer with a quality product that meets your criteria.
Research from the 1970's, shows that the omega-3 fatty acids from fish offer tremendous protection from heart disease, and the anti-inflammatory effects of omega 3s are so powerful that scientists are now researching their affects on other diseases.
On June 26, 2005, Newsweek magazine featured an article titled "Quieting a Body's Defenses – Researchers are linking inflammation to an every-wider array of chronic illnesses. But treatments that block the inflammatory response can backfire." The article went on to say "... Most of us are just now awakening to the risks of chronic inflammation". Could it be that the "heart healthy" fat-free and consequently omega-3 deficient diets we've all been force fed are actually to blame for the "ever-wider array" of chronic inflammatory illnesses???
Unfortunately, most of us have bought the toxic-fish story "hook, line and sinker". Our society has a belief system in place that has caused many health conscious individuals to avoid what others know to be a healing food, not a toxic one. Maybe it's time to find a new box of beliefs, or better yet, maybe it's time to go fish!
Meanwhile, back at the farm...
About the Author:
Brenda Ruble is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who has been a facilitator of health and healing for the past twenty years.
Her work began from the ground up, researching and studying soil improvement, animal husbandry, sustainable farming and gardening, and holistic medical practices; and has evolved into an exploration of the body-mind-world connection.
Brenda is inspiring others to take control of their lives, educating them to think in new ways about symptoms and disease. She teaches that illness is the body's powerful method of communication that something within or around us is out of balance. When we master this "language of the body" we can actually increase our potential for healing.
Brenda is an advocate of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the restoration of traditionally prepared, mineral-rich foods to the American diet through education, research and activism. She works closely with farmers, university research groups and consumers to continue developing chemical-free grass-fed pastured livestock, wild-caught ocean fish and other nutrient-dense whole foods while educating along the way.
Brenda Ruble is a voice of passion & possibility, inspiring others to restore health from within. Visit her websites at www.brendaruble.com and www.thymelycuisine.com or write her at info@ThymelyCuisine.com.
The statements and products shown on this website have not been evaluated by the US Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. You should consult with a healthcare professional before starting any diet, exercise or supplementation program, before taking any medication, or if you have or suspect you might have a health problem. The opinions expressed here belong solely to the author and are not necessarily those of NTPtalk.com.