Would you be happy if, during dinner, your child asked “Could I have more salmon, please?” Well sure, it would be nice to know that your constant loop of ‘always say please and thank you’ had actually paid off, but I’m not channeling Emily Post here. I’m talking about the awesome fact that your kid wants more of a very healthy fish. But, if you’re regularly feeding said child farmed salmon, the great news might actually stop at those good manners.
As a source of lean protein that’s rich in vitamins, minerals and Omega-3 fatty acids, seafood is an important part of a healthy diet. In particular, Omega-3 fatty acids are known to lower heart disease risk, reduce inflammation, help prevent cancer cell growth and improve infant brain development. And there are great recipes, like citrus-soy glazed black cod and mustard-broiled salmon that are easy to prepare and yummy to eat. So: eat any fish and be healthy — pretty straightforward, right?
Not so fast. Because, as healthy as seafood is, there are many dangerous contaminants found in our waters, as well as synthetic chemicals that are added to farmed fish, that have done quite a number on the seafood that finds its way to our supermarkets. And then onto our children’s plates. And then into their bodies. Yeah, you get it.
So, while it’s more important to eat regular servings of seafood than to avoid seafood altogether out of fear of contamination,it’s absolutely wisest to feed your family a steady diet of the healthiest and safest fish. And that’s something that, armed with a bit of information, anyone can do.
Now back to salmon – which is very popular and one of my family’s faves. My advice? Children, women considering pregnancy and those with a baby bump should pretty much steer clear of Atlantic farmed salmon. That would result in reducing the intake of the dioxins, PCBs, fire retardants, pesticides and antibiotics that are found in those fish. A pretty horrifying list, no? And in case you were wondering, I don’t only care about the young set and those who are preggers. But an occasional serving of farmed salmon for a non-pregnant, healthy adult is ok; the above mentioned contaminants and carcinogens have much more dangerous implications for a developing fetus and growing children.
Regarding so called “organic” salmon: there’s no organic standard for “aquaculture” in the U.S. and, while organic salmon farms off the coasts of Scotland and Ireland are regulated to a degree, there are still concerns about these farmed fish.
Wild Alaskan salmon is a great option for everyone. Higher in Omega-3s than even the farmed stuff, it’s also considered safe and folks should enjoy regular servings. (Regarding serving size, here’s a little tip: 4 oz of fish is about the size of a deck of cards. An adult’s serving size is 4-6 oz; a kid’s serving size is smaller.) The wild salmon season runs from around May to November and if the healthy price tag is a concern, it’s worth eating it a little less often and supplementing with canned salmon, which is usually wild and is very versatile. Try this tasty recipe for easy salmon cakes. On this front, choose brands likeVital Choice that use BPA-free linings in their cans.
And how about the ubiquitous tuna sandwich? While there’s nothing quite like tuna on soft whole wheat with lettuce and tomatoes (extra pickles, please), I’ll stop right here and tell you that albacore/white canned tuna is high in mercury and should be avoided (or eaten rarely) by, you guessed it, the kids and the pregnant ones. Mercury is a known neurotoxin – it can affect the developing brain and nervous system. Chunk light tuna is lower in mercury and can be eaten somewhat more often. But be aware – tuna is often a staple of school lunches. Find out what kind of tuna your child’s school serves and adjust his intake accordingly.
There are obviously many “fish to fry” and so for seafood in general, try to buy the types lowest in contaminants – often smaller species and not bottom feeders – and err on the side of wild as opposed to farmed fish. But you don’t have to memorize anything. Download the Safe Seafood App for your iPhone or check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch website for a complete list of the safest – and least safe – types of seafood.
Be smart about the fish that you eat and feed your family. Look for the healthiest, safest options and make a habit of serving them. And then your family will really thank you.