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    Archive for the ‘mercury’ Category

    You Ask, I Answer: Canned vs. Fresh Tuna

    tuna-sushiAll the mercury warnings I read about tuna mention albacore canned tuna.

    What about sushi, though?  Are certain cuts, like toro, higher in mercury?

    — Ralph Darpilo
    (Location Withheld)

    Unless you frequent top-dollar sushi restaurants that offer exotic varieties of tuna, the type you’re eating is bluefin tuna.

    Toro, by the way, is simply the underbelly of tuna fish.  It is not a separate species of fish.

    Bluefin tuna are just as large as albacore varieties.  Translation: they both offer very high levels of mercury.

    As far as figures go, consider one small six-piece tuna roll (or three pieces of tuna nigiri/sashimi) equivalent to a half can of albacore tuna.

    With that in mind, use this handy-dandy “tuna calculator”(courtesy of the folks at the Environmental Working Group) to determine — based on your sex and weight — what your safe weekly limit is.


    You Ask, I Answer: Fish Oil Supplements & Mercury

    fish-oil-tabletsIs there anything in particular I should look for when buying fish oil supplements?

    Also, should I be worried about mercury levels?

    — Dennise O’Grady
    Bay Head, NJ

    The main thing you want to look for is the presence of DHA and EPA (you want anywhere from 500 to 1,000 milligrams of each of those essential fatty acids).

    Oil from krill (small, cold-water crustaceans that live in the ocean floor) is apparently starting to be considered the golden standard in some circles since it appears to be the most easily absorbable, and also contains antioxidants not found in oil from fish.

    That said, oil from actual fish is just as good a source of those two fatty acids.

    Since fish oils are extracted from fish that are very low on the food chain (e.g.: mackerel, herring, sardines, cod), mercury contamination is not a concern.

    My rule of thumb is: food first, then supplements.  If you can get your omega-3 fatty acids from eating fish, that is best.

    However, I realize there are some barriers.  Some people do not like the taste of fish, others are vegetarian, and, as is the case with salmon, there is always the doubt of whether the fish you are eating is wild or farmed (farmed fish tend to have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids).

    For those interested in eating their DHA and EPA, I highly recommend sardines.  They are never farmed, so you can always expect a good dose of those two omega-3 fatty acids!


    You Ask, I Answer: Chunk Light Tuna

    I generally eat about 4 cans of chunk light tuna a week. Reasoning: Omega-3’s are good and mercury is low in chunk light tuna.

    However, I just read an article saying that mercury was high even in canned tuna, although previous sources have said that mercury levels in canned tuna are low enough to be safe.

    The same sources state that only the larger predatory fish such as shark and albacore tuna need be avoided.

    What’s your take?

    — Corey Clark
    [Location unknown]

    Chunk light tuna contains approximately one third of the mercury found in the same amount of albacore (“white”) tuna.

    According to current recommendations, adults can safely eat up to three cans of chunk light tuna a week (the suggestion for albacore tuna caps off weekly consumption at one can for adults).

    Don’t get too comfortable, though. You still need to glance at the ingredient list since some varieties of canned light tuna contain yellowfin tuna, which contains higher amounts of mercury.


    You Ask, I Answer: Himalayan Salt

    Is Himalayan crystal salt worth the extra money?

    Some of the literature claims it is the most nutritious salt in the world since it is all natural and free of preservatives.

    — Lorena Ibarra
    (city withheld), FL

    The literature you are referring to is written by companies that sell Himalayan salt — not the most objective source.

    I have read some of these pamphlets and the claims make absolutely no sense to me.

    Makers of Himalayan salt, for instance, boast that their product contains all 84 chemical elements, lending it a “special harmonic vibration.”

    This is quite an odd statement, since that figure includes heavy metals like mercury and uranium. I certainly don’t want them in my food!

    And, what constitutes a “special” hamonic vibration? Who measures that? With what? How? And, above all, “so what?”

    The most outlandish claim is that Himalayan salt is preservative-free. No salt has added preservatives because salt in itself is a preservative!

    That’s as absurd as saying that honey has no added sugar (sweeteners don’t have added sugar because they already are a form of sugar.)

    Himalayan salt is indeed “all natural.” So are poisonous mushrooms.

    In short — salt is salt is salt.

    In the case of Himalayan salt, you are looking at sodium chloride (aka table salt) and a small amount of naturally-occurring minerals that lend it a pinkish hue and subtly different flavor.

    If you were thinking of purchasing Himalayan salt for health reasons, save your money and buy fresh fruits and vegetables instead.


    In The News: Mercury In High Fructose Corn Syrup

    Here’s some unpleasant news.

    The Washington Post is reporting on two recent studies published in Environmental Health which found that “almost half of tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contained mercury, which was also found in nearly a third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products where HFCS is the first- or second-highest labeled ingredient.”

    Ranges varied from 0.005 to 0.57 micrograms of mercury per gram of high fructose corn syrup.

    Keep in mind that Environmental Protection Agency figures, for instance, consider 0.1 micrograms per kilogram of body weight to be the upper limit for safe intakes.

    This means, then that a 140 pound adult (63.6 kilograms) should consume no more than 6.36 micrograms a day.

    The problem here comes with the high amount of high fructose corn syrup consumed by the average child, teenager, and adult in the United States — 12 daily teaspoons on average.

    Let’s do some math.

    Twelve teaspoons of HFCS equal 48 grams.

    If those 48 grams came from the sample with the highest amount of mercury, that totals 27 micrograms of mercury in a single day!

    Two more things worth pointing out.

    First, sodas were found not to have any mercury in them despite consisting of mainly water and high fructose corn syrup. Perhaps this is due to some processing step?

    Second, controversy is arising due to rumblings that the lead author of one study allegedly alerted the Food & Drug Administration about her findings several years ago but, for reasons not known to anyone, these findings were reportedly not followed up on.

    The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy — which participated in both studies — is actively pushing for immediate changes in manufacturing that would not taint high fructose corn syrup with the infamous heavy metal.

    Yet another bullet point for the ever-expanding “important issues in food safety” list…

    And, more importantly, even more of a reason to limit the amount of processed, nutritionally inferior food (which is usually laden with added sugars, mainly in the form of high fructose corn syrup.)

    PS: Thank you to reader Dennise O’Grady for providing me with the second link in this post.


    Perfect Pickings: Tuna

    It may surprise you to learn that not all canned tuna is created equally.

    First up: packed in water or oil?

    Water is preferrable – for two reasons.

    It results in less calories (60 calories per 2 ounce serving, rather than 110 or 120) and, since water and oil don’t mix, the Omega-3 fatty acids present in tuna are not lost when water is drained.

    The two more important issues surrounding canned tuna are sodium and mercury levels.

    A standard 6 ounce can of tuna provides 750 – 850 milligrams of sodium (approximately a third of a day’s needs) — quite a bit for its low calorie contribution (roughly 150, if canned in water).

    Look for low-sodium varieties that slash sodium by half, like Starkist’s “low sodium tuna”.

    You will barely tell the difference, especially if you are eating canned tuna as part of a salad or sandwich.

    Albacore tuna — the white, meatier, less fishy tasting of the bunch — happens to be one of the largest fish.

    Therefore, its mercury content is approximately 3 times higher than that of smaller fish — mainly skipjack — used for chunk light varieties.

    Some companies, like King of the Sea, sell authentic low-mercury — chunk light is “lower mercury”– tuna . The secret? Using yellowfin tuna!

    Here’s a tidbit that surprises many people.

    Those of you with a milk protein (casein) allergy must read canned tuna labels carefully, since some of them are processed by adding hydrolyzed casein!

    Lastly, be mindful of what you’re putting on your tuna. If it’s a few tablespoons of mayo, it’s time to do some modifying.

    I find, for instance, that hummus — especially a red pepper variety — is a wonderfully tasty replacement for mayonnaise when making tuna salad.


    In The News: The Big Fish Exposé

    Last week’s report on the alarmingly high mercury content of tuna sushi served in various New York City restaurants made consumer and industry ears perk up.

    Remember, “a chain of five stores in New York, Gourmet Garage, sold tuna that in the New York Times test had mercury concentrations above one part per million, the Food and Drug Administration’s “action level,” at which the fish can be taken off the market.”

    Consumers are undoubtedly taking the issue seriously.

    “At Eli’s Manhattan, on New York’s Upper East Side, sales of tuna sushi were down 30 percent in the past week,” the New York Times reports in this follow-up article.

    Now the Environmental Protection Agency is stepping in and beginning to test the mercury levels of the 20 most consumed fish in the New York City area.

    I’m looking forward to reading the results.

    In the meantime, please do not view discard something as wonderful healthy as seafood as high-mercury poison.

    The real “red flag” is raised with large fish (that accumulate mercury in their system through consuming smaller fish).

    Smaller species such as salmon, tilapia, flounder, sardines, and sole are among the lowest in mercury.

    Remember, too, that mollusks and crustaceans such as shrimp, scallops, prawns, and crab are healthy low-mercury options.


    In The News: Tricky Tuna

    How coincidental.

    Slightly over 24 hours ago I posted a link to an online calculator that helps you determine how much mercury you are taking in when consuming certain fish.

    Now, an article in The New York Times reveals that abnormally high levels of mercury have been found in tuna sushi.

    Recent laboratory tests found so much mercury in tuna sushi from 20 Manhattan stores and restaurants that at most of them, a regular diet of six pieces a week would exceed the levels considered acceptable by the Environmental Protection Agency,” renowned journalist Marian Burros reports.

    In fact, fresh tuna sushi appears to contain a higher level of mercury than its canned counterpart, which is already high in the toxic mineral.

    This is one situation in which higher-priced sushi isn’t worth the extra dollars.

    More expensive tuna usually contains more mercury because it is more likely to come from a larger species, which accumulates mercury from the fish it eats.

    Excessive intake of mercury can result in skin rashes, speech impairment, and temporary memory loss.

    It is especially dangerous to pregnant women, who can detrimentally effect the neurological development of their future children.

    This increased mercury content in our waters is partially due to the government not enforcing stricter policies against coal burning plants emitting toxic minerals into the air, which ultimately end up in our waters.

    In fact, the coal lobby is such a powerful presence that initial proposals to set a limit on mercury emissions were discarded from the Clean Air Act.


    THE Handy Dandy Calculator

    The issue of mercury contamination in our aquatic food supply is a consistently hot topic in nutrition.

    Unfortunately, it is often marred by wishy-washy recommendations and unclear figures.

    Lucky for us, the folks at Got Mercury offer a great tool.

    Punch in your weight, select the seafood of choice from the drop-down menu, plug in the amount you think you will eat in a given week, and find out how high — or low — your mercury intake is.

    It bears saying that the benefits of eating fish and mollusks far outweigh the risks.

    For the most part, those needing to be mindful of their intake are people who scarf down canned tuna every day (not as uncommon as you might think) and pregnant women.

    High amounts of mercury can be dangerous to the developing fetus (particularly its nervous system, ocular development, and kidneys) and the expecting mother.

    Still, knowledge never hurts, and if seafood is a staple of your diet, it is worth paying the site a visit.


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