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Safest fish to eat are also the most sustainable, says study

Jordana Divon
Shine On
August 8, 2012

Fish fan? Would you would gladly pile a whole piece of fish on your plate every day? Or perhaps you simply like to eat the scaly creatures for their noted health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids?

But as any health-conscious person knows, fish has come under fire for its risk of high mercury levels, while environmentally responsible individuals also worry about the toll of overfishing on the ecosystem.

This despite the fact that Canada's Food Guide recommends you get two servings (or 150 grams) of fish every week.

Therein lies the dilemma. What do you do? Do you give up seafood and start taking Omega-3 fatty acid supplements?

Not necessary. Your mealtime conundrum has been solved thanks to a new study published in the Frontiers in Ecology journal.

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A team of land dwellers from the University of Arizona has ranked 44 different fish according to their health factors, safety and sustainability and divided the fish into three categories to reflect those results.

The best news of all? It turns out the more sustainable fish are better for us anyway.

"If the fish is sustainable, then it is likely to be healthy to eat too," says study co-author Leah Gerber, an associate professor and senior sustainability scientist at Arizona State University.

Green fish are a go as they're low in mercury and high in sustainability. Sustainability means they are farmed or caught responsibly. They include: Pacific herring, Pacific cod, Yellowfin sole, Tanner crab, and Skipjack tuna.

Red fish have been stopped at the gate for being high in mercury and low in sustainability. Among the offenders are Bluefin tuna, Yellowtail flounder, Swordfish, Spanish mackerel and the aptly named Gag grouper.

Grey fish fit into that nebulous sphere where they're either sustainable, but full of the bad stuff, or conversely, low in mercury but a bad choice for the environment.

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The highest red designation numbers came from large, predatory fish, like sea bass. These fish tend to accumulate more concentrated toxins from eating smaller, mercury-laden fish, which then gets passed on to our dinner plates.

Pregnant women and young children are especially vulnerable to the adverse health effects of these toxins.

Green fish, on the other hand, safely provide us with the good stuff we need to combat heart attack, stroke, and arthritis, while boosting our brain power to boot.

The study compliments the work of SeaChoice, a six-year-old conservation umbrella group intent on helping Canadians make smart fish decisions.

Between this organization, awareness groups, and the new study, Canadians should have a better sense of what fish will provide the greatest health benefits (high omega-3s, low mercury) and what seafood to avoid.

Now get to the market. There's a Skipjack tunafish salad calling your name.

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