Guide for healthy seafood for seniors

Regular seafood consumption can support a healthy diet, as many fish and seafood choices are high in heart-healthy Omega 3’s. Making responsible seafood choices is important for your own health and also the environment, but understanding it can be confusing and overwhelming. Heavy metal content, ethics and sustainability – what does it all mean? Here is your guide to healthy seafood for seniors.

Heavy Metal Content

“You are what you eat”. Certain seafood species are contaminated with toxic heavy metals such as Mercury, which has been linked to damage of the human brain, kidney, liver, heart and nervous system. Research has indicated that people who eat high-mercury fish often can experience nervous system damage such as sleep disturbance, headache, fatigue, poor concentration, memory issues and neuropathy. Symptoms of mercury toxicity do often subside slowly once fish high in mercury are removed from the diet, so it is important to educate yourself and eliminate offenders from your diet.

Mercury content is mostly species-specific. Once you identify your favorite low-mercury fish you can then focus on finding sustainable sources.

Sustainability

Many fish we eat today are raised in farms, but over fishing and climate change has put additional strains on resources necessary for ethical aquaculture practices. As a result, the practices in global fisheries can vary and many farms are overcrowded. Antibiotics and chemical treatments are employed to combat diseases that come from these unfavorable conditions. 

Sustainable farming practices of most fish species are tracked, rated and available to view by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program creates science-based recommendations that help consumers and businesses make ocean-friendly seafood choices. Customized by state, the site offers a printable pdf guide that you can carry with you and share it with others to help spread the word. The guide divides seafood choices into the following categories:

Green: Best choices; “well managed and caught or farmed in ways that cause little harm to habitats or other wildlife”

Yellow: Good alternatives; “some concerns”

Red: Avoid; “strong sustainability concerns”

These ratings should make choosing sustainable options easier. It isn’t that simple, though. Ratings for a single species can range from green to red depending on many factors like environmental conditions, feed, and disease treatment. Pay attention next time you are purchasing seafood at the market, as many grocery stores now display ecological ratings for their fish. If not displayed, you can most certainly ask. Restaurants also often participate in sustainability programs so don’t be afraid to ask your restaurant staff for details on menu items.

“Best Bets” for Healthier Seafood for Seniors

The Environmental Working Group (“EWG”) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the research and advocacy of agricultural practices. The EWG has dedicated resources that consider the most important principles you should regard when purchasing seafood: (1) heavy metal content, and (2) healthy aquaculture practices (sustainability). The table below outlines EWG’s suggestions, and we couldn’t agree more.

EWG's Good Seafood Guide

CategorySpeciesHelpful Information
EWG's Best Bets (Very High Omega-3's, Low Mercury, Sustainable)Wild SalmonOne or two four-ounce servings a week of these fish have little mercury and optimum levels of omega-3 fatty acids for pregnant or nursing women and people with heart disease.
Sardines
Mussels
Rainbow Trout
Atlantic Mackarel
Good Choices (High Omega 3's, Low Mercury)OystersThese species have favorable concentrations of omega-3 fats. One four-ounce serving provides at least 25% of the weekly recommended omega-3 consumption. These species do not necessarily come from sustainable sources.
Anchovies
Pollock / Imitation Crab
Herring
Low Mercury (But Also Low Omega-3's)ShrimpThese varieties can be healthy sources of protein and other nutrients, but an adult would have to eat anywhere from five to 20 four-ounce portions to meet the omega-3 recommendation for pregnant women and those with heart disease.
Catfish
Tilapia
Clams
Scallops
Mercury Risk (Limit or Avoid)Canned Light and Albacore TunaThese fish contain too much mercury to be part of the regular diet, especially pregnant women and children. Healthier options listed above are recommended to be part of your regular diet.
Halibut
Lobster
Mahi Mahi
Sea Bass
AvoidSharkHigh-mercury seafood should never be eaten by pregnant woman and children. Everyone else should eat these species infrequently or not at all.
Swordfish
King Mackarel
Marlin
Bluefin and Bigeye Tuna Steaks or Sushi
Orange Roughy

This information is being actively researched and updated on a regular basis so be sure to check back with Monterey Bay Aquarium and EWG regularly for updates. Source: “EWG’s Consumer Guide to Seafood: Executive Summary” www.ewg.org

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