Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment

FISH

Advice for Fish You Buy from Stores and Restaurants

Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet.

  • Fish and shellfish supply high-quality protein and other essential nutrients and are low in saturated fat.
  • Eating fish and shellfish can contribute to heart health and children's proper growth.
  • Women and children especially should include fish or shellfish in their diets because of the many nutritional benefits.

Guide to fish you buy that are lower in mercury and higher in omega-3 fatty acids

To help choose fish that are safe to eat, federal agencies give special advice for women and children:

Joint Federal Advisory for Mercury in Fish

  • DO NOT EAT shark, swordfish, tilefish, or king mackerel.
  • Eat up to 2 meals a week (12 ounces cooked) of a variety of fish and shellfish from stores or restaurants
  • Five common types low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.
  • Albacore ("white") tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. When choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to one meal (6 ounces) of albacore tuna per week.
  • Serve smaller portions to children.

Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas.

The federal advice was issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2004.

The federal advisory is available at:  www.epa.gov/waterscience/fishadvice/advice.html

  • Printable Federal Mercury Advisory brochure

For more detailed information:

Mercury Levels in Commercial Fish and Shellfish (from FDA)

Recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010

“Seafood contributes a range of nutrients, notably the omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).”  

  • Eating about 8 ounces (cooked, edible portion) per week of a variety of seafood provides an average consumption of 250 mg per day of EPA and DHA.  Following this recommendation helps prevent heart disease.

“The average intake of seafood in the U.S. is about 3½ ounces per week, and increased intake is recommended.”

  • “Twice a week, make seafood the protein on your plate.”

“In addition to the health benefits for the general public, the nutritional value of seafood is of particular importance during fetal growth and development, as well as in early infancy and childhood.”

  • Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular DHA, from at least 8 ounces of seafood per week for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding can improve infant health.
  • Therefore, it is recommended that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding eat at least 8 and up to 12 ounces (cooked, edible portion) of a variety of seafood per week, from choices that are lower in mercury.

Seafood varieties commonly eaten in the U.S. that are higher in EPA and DHA and lower in mercury include:

    • salmon
    • anchovies
    • herring
    • sardines
    • Pacific oysters
    • trout
    • Atlantic and Pacific mackerel (not king mackerel, which is high in mercury)

For more detailed information, the full report, Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, can be found here.

Appendix 11 (on page 85) lists common types of seafood with the omega-3 fatty acids (EPA+DHA) and mercury content in a 4-ounce cooked portion. 

Note for using the table:  A total of 1,750 mg per week of EPA+DHA provides an average of 250 mg per day of these omega-3 fatty acids.

 
 
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