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Nutrition and Health

Frequently Asked Questions…

Why should I eat more fish and seafood?
What are Omega 3- Fatty Acids and why are they beneficial?
Are omega-3s destroyed with cooking and storage?
What do women and caregivers need to know about mercury and seafood?
More Frequently Asked Questions about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish

Why should I eat more fish and seafood?

  • There are a variety of delicious reasons to make fish and shellfish, a regular part of your diet. Fish and shellfish are excellent sources of high quality protein, beneficial oils and many important vitamins and minerals. An average serving of fish or other seafood (approximately 5 ounces cooked fish) provides 50-60 percent of an adult's daily protein needs and only 200 calories.

  • All seafood is low in fat - less than 5% fat - and nearly all seafood is low in cholesterol. Although shrimp is higher in cholesterol than most types of fish and shellfish, it is still lower in saturated fat and total fat than most meats and poultry.

  • Based on a number of studies, the American Heart Association suggests we enjoy at least 2 servings of baked or grilled fish each week, especially oily fish because they contain Omega 3 fatty acids. Fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids include: salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, and albacore tuna.

  • Oily fish are also among the best dietary sources for naturally occurring Vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for absorption of calcium. Both Calcium and Vitamin D are the nutrients essential for strong bones.

  • Seafood is also an excellent source of minerals including: iodine, which is critical to thyroid gland functioning and metabolism; iron is crucial for red cell formation; zinc, for wound healing and sexual function; and niacin -vital for a healthy skin and metabolism. Oysters, scallops, clams and mussels are also terrific sources of iron and zinc. Oysters and mussels have nearly three times as much iron as most meats and oysters are one of the best food sources of zinc.

What are Omega 3- Fatty Acids and why are they beneficial?

  • Omega-3 fatty acids are the highly unsaturated fatty acids commonly found in fish oils. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in all types of seafood. The richest sources of Omega-3 fatty acids are ocean fish, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel. Omega -3s can inhibit blood clotting and improve blood flow. They relax our arteries, help keep them from becoming clogged with plaque, and improve blood circulation in the heart. They also lower the circulating levels of blood fats and blood pressure and thus reduce the likelihood of heart attacks.

Are omega-3s destroyed with cooking and storage?

  • Freezing seafoods -- as well as cooking with methods like baking, broiling, and steaming -- causes minimal omega-3 losses. But deep frying, with its very high temperatures, could destroy some omega-3s and also add high levels of total fat to your meal. The best way to preserve omega-3s and keep down your total fat intake is to use low-fat cooking methods such as baking, broiling, poaching, steaming, stir-frying, grilling, and sautéing in little or no fat -- and remember to only cook until the point of doneness.

What do women and caregivers need to know about mercury and seafood?

The following statement is from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food & Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition from the FDA's Home page.

2004 EPA and FDA Advice For:

Women Who Might Become Pregnant
Women Who are Pregnant
Nursing Mothers
Young Children

Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet. Fish and shellfish contain high-quality protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids. A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish can contribute to heart health and children's proper growth and development. So, women and young children in particular should include fish or shellfish in their diets due to the many nutritional benefits.

However, nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury. For most people, the risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern. Yet, some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child's developing nervous system. The risks from mercury in fish and shellfish depend on the amount of fish and shellfish eaten and the levels of mercury in the fish and shellfish. Therefore, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are advising women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children to avoid some types of fish and eat fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.

By following these 3 recommendations for selecting and eating fish or shellfish, women and young children will receive the benefits of eating fish and shellfish and be confident that they have reduced their exposure to the harmful effects of mercury.

  1. Do not eat Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel, or Tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury.

  2. Eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.

    • Some of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, catfish, Ocean Perch, flounder, clams, scallops, Hake, and oysters.

    • Another commonly eaten fish, albacore ("white") tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. So, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.

  3. Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. If no advice is available, eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) per week of fish you catch from local waters, but don't consume any other fish during that week. Follow these same recommendations when feeding fish and shellfish to your young child, but serve smaller portions.

More Frequently Asked Questions about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish:

  1. "What is mercury and methylmercury?"
    Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and can also be released into the air through industrial pollution. Mercury falls from the air and can accumulate in streams and oceans and is turned into methylmercury in the water. It is this type of mercury that can be harmful to your unborn baby and young child. Fish absorb the methylmercury as they feed in these waters and so it builds up in them. It builds up more in some types of fish and shellfish than others, depending on what the fish eat, which is why the levels vary.

  2. "I'm a woman who could have children but I'm not pregnant - so why should I be concerned about methylmercury?"
    If you regularly eat types of fish that are high in methylmercury, it can accumulate in your blood stream over time. Methylmercury is removed from the body naturally, but it may take over a year for the levels to drop significantly. Thus, it may be present in a woman even before she becomes pregnant. This is the reason why women who are trying to become pregnant should also avoid eating certain types of fish.

  3. "Is there methylmercury in all fish and shellfish?"
    Nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of methylmercury. However, larger fish that have lived longer have the highest levels of methylmercury because they've had more time to accumulate it. These large fish (swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish) pose the greatest risk. Other types of fish and shellfish may be eaten in the amounts recommended by FDA and EPA.

  4. "I don't see the fish I eat in the advisory. What should I do?"
    If you want more information about the levels in the various types of fish you eat, see the FDA food safety website or the EPA website at

  5. "What about fish sticks and fast food sandwiches?"
    Fish sticks and "fast-food" sandwiches are commonly made from fish that are low in mercury.

  6. "The advice about canned tuna is in the advisory, but what's the advice about tuna steaks?"
    Because tuna steak generally contains higher levels of mercury than canned light tuna, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of tuna steak per week.

  7. "What if I eat more than the recommended amount of fish and shellfish in a week?"
    One week's consumption of fish does not change the level of methylmercury in the body much at all. If you eat a lot of fish one week, you can cut back for the next week or two. Just make sure you average the recommended amount per week.

  8. "Where do I get information about the safety of fish caught recreationally by family or friends?"
    Before you go fishing, check your Fishing Regulations Booklet for information about recreationally caught fish. You can also contact your local health department for information about local advisories. You need to check local advisories because some kinds of fish and shellfish caught in your local waters may have higher or much lower than average levels of mercury. This depends on the levels of mercury in the water in which the fish are caught. Those fish with much lower levels may be eaten more frequently and in larger amounts.
For further information about the risks of mercury in fish and shellfish call the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's food information line toll-free at 1-888-SAFEFOOD or visit FDA's Food Safety website

For further information about the safety of locally caught fish and shellfish, visit the Environmental Protection Agency's Fish Advisory website or contact your State or Local Health Department. A list of state or local health department contacts is available at Click on Federal, State, and Tribal Contacts. For information on EPA's actions to control mercury, visit EPA's mercury website at

This document is available on the web at

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