Is Tuna Safe to Eat?

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Tuna is the number one most commonly eaten fish in North America, but new reports are surfacing on the hazards of eating tuna due to mercury content. Unfortunately, there are concerns with eating too much tuna as it contains a degree of mercury from industrial waste and mining. The type of mercury found in tuna is called methyl mercury and can cause serious neurological damage to a developing fetus or to a newborn as it is passed through breast milk.

Last week, a Consumers Report guideline analyzed the amount of mercury found in canned tuna and cautioned against eating it in excess, especially for pregnant or breast- feeding women. These recommendations are in conflict with the current FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) guidelines released in 2004 which state:

• Eat up to 12 ounces a week (about two servings) of canned "light" tuna and other cooked fish that have lower levels of mercury (such as shrimp, salmon and catfish).

• Limit intake of albacore ("white") tuna and locally caught fish, which are higher in mercury, to 6 ounces (one serving) a week.

• Completely avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish (also called golden or white snapper) because these fish are at the top of the food chain and contain the highest levels of mercury.

According to the Consumers Report released last week, the guidelines for pregnant and nursing women, women of child-bearing age and young children in respect to eating tuna are as follows:

• Pregnant women should avoid eating all tuna, even light tuna.

• Young children (up to 45 pounds) can safely eat about one-half to one 6-ounce can (roughly 4.5 ounces drained) of chunk-light tuna per week, or up to one-third of a can of solid-light or white tuna.

• Women of child-bearing age should eat no more than three chunk-light tuna cans per week, or one can of solid-light or white-tuna.

With the above conflicting reports, it is difficult, if not impossible, for a consumer to make a proper decision. While I am an advocate of eating fish for its rich protein and omega-3 fat content, I agree with the cautionary approach of the recent Consumer Report. In order to eat fish in a safe and healthy manner, I would recommend the following:

• Avoid tuna completely while pregnant and breast-feeding. Methyl mercury is so potentially toxic to a developing fetus and newborn, it is not worth taking the chance.

• For toddlers and older kids, one 6-ounce can of light tuna per week appears to be safe.

• Do not substitute tuna with farmed salmon. Farmed salmon is loaded with cancer- causing pollutants called PCBs. In addition to eating light tuna, add wild Atlantic salmon to your diet. The good news is, most canned salmon is from a wild source.

• Supplement with fish oils to get enough omega-3 essential fats into your diet.

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