Many people, myself included, are trying very hard to live a healthy lifestyle. Often, that means a diet rich in fish based protein. Unfortunately, by eating certain types of fish, we may very well be sabotaging our efforts. Apparently, not all fish are created equal where healthy protein is concerned.

One of the most common and affordable fish at my local market is tilapia. It’s widely popular in restaurants, too. And what about tuna and salmon? Both are staple food fish that are served up at almost any decent eating establishment and are big sellers at my grocer’s meat counter.

Now that pollution is a serious problem in the world’s oceans, wild caught fish are also polluted with contaminants that we humans ingest when we consume their meat. Also, to be a conscientious consumer, a person must understand that years of overfishing have depleted the oceans populations of certain fish. So, what’s a health conscious and environmentally mindful person to do about including fish in their diet? Become an informed consumer, that’s what.

Catfish: Almost all catfish in U.S. retail markets is imported from Vietnam. They are marketed as a healthy alternative to contaminated wild caught catfish because they are “farmed”. Unfortunately, antibiotic use is widespread in Vietnam fish farms.  Also be aware that two varieties of fish, Basa and Swai, are sometimes packaged as “catfish” but really aren’t.

Despite this bad news, one doesn’t have to forego catfish altogether. Domestic varieties of farm-raised catfish are a safer option. For a wild caught variety, Asian carp, although not a catfish, has a similar texture and taste. It is an invasive species that has been introduced to many American lakes and endangers the local ecosystems. No guilt in thinning those numbers!

Caviar: For most people, caviar is a luxury food item enjoyed on special occasions. Caviar is harvested from beluga whales and wild caught sturgeon. Both of these aquatic species are vulnerable to overfishing. Their survival is further threatened due to dam building in their native environments. This has created a pollution problem within their ecosystem.

Caviar, harvested eggs from adult females, further endanger these species because they are aquatic varieties that are slow to mature and reproduce. Once their numbers are depleted, it takes a long time for them to rebound and repopulate.

All is not bad news, however, for caviar lovers. There are brands that are supplied with ova from sturgeon varieties that have healthy population levels in American lakes and the Mississippi River.

Cod: This very popular food fish is often used in pre-packaged fish fillets and “fish sticks”. However, the Atlantic cod species has not fully recovered from a population collapse that occurred about one decade ago. It is one grade away from being officially listed as endangered.  To be a conscientious consumer of cod, read package labels carefully and select only Pacific cod whose strong numbers make this a great pick for a food fish.

Eel:  Personally, I don’t like eel but I have family members who enjoy fresh sushi rolls filled with eel. Whether wild caught or farmed at a fishery, eel is bad news. Wild caught eel is heavily contaminated with mercury and PCBs. Farmed eels are also suffering from the effects of being overharvested and polluted environments. Opting out of eel is the best solution altogether.

Flatfish: Atlantic varieties of sole, halibut and flounder have tested positive for heavy contamination as far back as the 1800s. Read packaging labels or ask your meat market attendant to make sure that your purchase is Pacific halibut. Or, better yet, substitute farm-raised tilapia instead.

So, the good news is that almost every “bad” fish has a suitable substitute. By being an informed consumer, people will no longer be spoiling their plans to strengthening their health by eating unhealthy foods they thought were healthy!

 

Written by Gemma