Safe Seafood Guidelines For Lent

by Julie Cohn

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For many who observe Lent, seafood is the go-to Friday night meal, but did you know there is certain seafood that can be harmful to eat, especially for children and pregnant women?   Be aware of the risks and use Safe Seafood Guidelines For Lent to keep your family healthy.

Watch Those Mercury Levels

Fish can be a great meal option for busy families.  Most seafood is low in fat, high in protein and Omega 3’s, and easy to prepare.  But did you know there are also many types of seafood that can be harmful to eat, especially in larger quantities, because of the mercury and pollutants absorbed into its body?  Mercury and other chemicals are slow to excrete from the body, so can accumulate, leading to mercury poisoning.  This is especially dangerous for children, pregnant women, and women who are nursing.

How Does Mercury Get In Fish?

Although mercury is present in seawater in small quantities, it is absorbed as methyl mercury by algae and plankton, who are then eaten by fish.  Once absorbed by the fish, mercury remains in the body and accumulates.  The older the fish, the more mercury they have absorbed.  Smaller fish with short life spans, such as herring, contain smaller amounts of mercury than larger predatory fish with longer lives, such as the shark, swordfish, and king mackerel. Because we are the top of the food chain, we absorb any mercury that has accumulated in the seafood we eat.

Read Seafood Labels



Did you know that 80% of the seafood sold in the United States has been imported from other regions, some of them with little to no contaminant guidelines or regulations?  Over the years, countries such as Japan and the United States have made great efforts to limit the amount of mercury and contaminants humans are exposed to, by establishing better environmental guidelines for the use of and disposal of mercury and other pollutants.  Many countries, however, have few guidelines, so seafood caught in regions such as southeast Asia (Thailand, China, Vietnam, India, Malaysia, etc) may contain higher levels of mercury and other toxins.  Farmed fish has also been found to have higher levels of contaminants due to pesticide run-off and farmed fish food sources, although fish farmed in the United States adheres to EPA guidelines.  It is important to check labels when shopping and be aware of where the fish you buy comes from, then avoid the regions with fewer guidelines.

Some Guidelines:

The following is a guide to the healthiest fish to eat (low-mercury levels and high Omega 3), according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Super Green List:

  • Atlantic Mackeral
  • Freshwater Coho Salmon (Farmed in the US)
  • Pacific Sardines (Wild caught)
  • Salmon (Fresh or canned/Wild caught from Alaska)

Safe Seafood Guidelines for Lent 2

According to the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), these fish have the highest levels of mercury and should be avoided:

  • King Mackeral
  • Marlin (King)
  • Orange Roughy
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Tilefish
  • Tuna (Big Eye & Ahi)

Safe Seafood Guidelines for Lent 3

Even sushi fish is affected by mercury levels.  NRDC offers recommendations for several low mercury seafood choices, including Ebi (shrimp), Ika (squid), and Masu (trout).

So what about that tuna melt you had last Friday night?   According to NRDC tuna guidelines, a child weighing 40 lbs. can only have white albacore every five weeks and chunk light tuna every 11 days; a 110 lb. person can have white albacore every 12 days and chunk light every 4 days; and a 150 lb person can have white albacore tuna every 9 days and chunk light tuna every 3 days.  Instead of tuna fish sandwiches in your kids lunchbox, consider egg salad, grilled cheese, or peanut butter and jelly.

Use safe seafood guidelines for Lent to keep your Lenten commitment, while keeping your family safe. For more information on healthy eating guidelines for fish, visit the the National Resource Defense Council’s Seafood guide.  They also have this handy seafood guide for you to download and put in your wallet to use when you shop.  The Monterey Aquarium’s Seafood Watch is another awesome resource for sustainable and healthy seafood choices.


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1 comment

Shobha 02/23/2015 at 4:59 am

yikes! My kid loves tuna sandwiches and she’s a fussy eater. I just put a tuna sandwich in her lunchbox today. With the every 5 weeks rule, I am going to have to get more creative.


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