Five simple tips for eating safe fish

Fish offer great health benefits, however consumers need to choose safe varietes.

Fish is a great source of protein, vitamins and minerals. The omega-3 oils found in fish are important for healthy brain development in children and for reducing the risk of heart disease in adults. The American Heart Association recommends that adults eat fish two times a week. Most fish are safe to eat, however some fish have high amounts of chemicals that can cause health problems if we eat them often.

How does this happen? Many chemicals end up in lakes, rivers and oceans; consequentially some of the fish that live there are exposed to chemicals. Some of these chemicals don’t go away - they build up in the parts of the fish that we eat. Eating polluted fish won’t make anyone sick right away but the chemicals found in them can build up in our bodies and cause health problems if we eat them often.

Some of these chemicals can harm our immune system, reproductive system, brain functions or increase our risk of cancer. Children and babies that get too much of these chemicals may develop physical, mental or behavioral problems that they wouldn’t have otherwise had.

Most fish are safe and are good food choices for us and our families to eat. But, we need to be cautious about eating some other types of fish too often.

Here are five simple tips for eating safe fish:

1. Trimming and cooking

  • Remove or poke holes in the fish’s skin before cooking, to help fat drain.
  • Bake, broil or grill the fish on a rack and throw away the drippings.
  • Don’t eat the head, skin, bones, guts or dark fatty areas.
  • Don’t reuse oil that was used to deep-fry or pan-fry fish.

2. Don’t always eat fish from the same place. Choose different processors and distributors when you shop at the grocery store and eat fish from different rivers and lakes.

3. Eat smaller and younger fish. Bigger, older fish have had more time to collect chemicals in their bodies.

4. Don’t eat fatty fish like carp and catfish from polluted waters. Most chemicals (except for mercury) collect in the fish’s fat. Buy catfish from the grocery store instead.

5. Mercury stays in the fish and cannot be cut out or cooked away. Use the MDCH guidelines to choose fish that are low in mercury. There are specific guidelines for bodies of water (lakes, rivers, and creeks) that fall within watersheds in each area of Michigan.

Consumers can visit the Eat Safe Fish information presented by the Michigan Department of Community Health or call them at 1-800-648-6942.

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