There has been a lot of squeamishness about seafood lately, and it’s no wonder: endless news about oil spills and mercury levels can make adding fish to the family menu seem too risky. Small children and pregnant or nursing moms should be especially careful about the types and amounts of fish they eat.
But seafood also carries many health benefits, even for the smallest members of the family. So how do you know which fish are safe? We at Two Birdees have fished up some tips (haha) to help you make the right choices about which kinds of seafood to feed your little birdees.
Don’t be afraid to dive in.
If fish is dangerous, why eat it at all? There are plenty of health benefits to eating more fish, even for children. Fish are an essential source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to improve your mood and lower the risk of heart disease. Infants seem to benefit most from the omega-3 fatty acid called DHA. DHA is important to the development of the brain and vision in babies and children, so as moms, we want to be sure our little birdees are getting enough fish in their diets.
The trouble is there are tons of fish out there, and some contain more nutrients than others. The name of the game is to choose fish with high levels of DHA and low levels of harmful substances, such as mercury. According to this chart, the fish species with the highest DHA and lowest mercury include salmon, sardine, anchovy, and rainbow trout.
Are organic fish safer?
That’s a hard question because the term “organic” doesn’t really apply to fish. Food gets the organic label if we know that no chemicals or harmful substances were used during its growing process.
Fish that are farm raised are almost always fed non-organic food and have their water treated to prevent diseases, so they can’t be called organic. According to this article from WebMD, farm raised fish are more likely to contain contaminants, no matter what the species. On the other hand, wild fish can’t be called organic because if a fish is caught in the wild, there’s no way to know whether it ate inorganic material or came into contact with chemicals in the open water. .
So if traditional organic labels don’t apply, how can moms be sure they’re choosing the healthiest fish for the dinner table? First, learn what types of fish are most sustainable to shop for by using a seafood list. The Environmental Defense Fund and the Safina Center both maintain online lists rating the sustainability of hundreds of kinds of fish. Ratings are based on whether a species is overfished or caught by methods that harm the environment. A species is given a green symbol if it’s an eco-friendly choice, while environmentally harmful choices get a red symbol.
So now you have a type of fish in mind, but grocery stores can contain the same kind of fish caught by different fisheries. The best thing is to choose fish caught by ethical and sustainable fisheries that take steps not to overfish or harm the environment. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is the biggest certifier of sustainable fisheries in the United States. Look for packaging with the blue MSC label to see if your potential seafood purchase comes from a reputable fishery.
Monitor the mercury.
When most people think about hazards related to eating fish, they think about mercury. Nearly all fish contain some amount of mercury, and the amount increases the higher up the food chain you go. It works like this: mercury is absorbed from the water by algae, which are eaten by small fish. Mercury stays in fish’s systems for a long time. When many small fish, each containing a little mercury, get eaten by bigger fish, that bigger fish then contains more mercury. A few of those fish get eaten by an even bigger fish, and so on.
For this reason, the FDA advises against eating large, carnivorous fish, especially those with long lifespans. The longer a fish has been alive, the more mercury-filled food it has eaten. These fish include shark, marlin, king mackerel, and tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico. This press release from the FDA has more information about which types of fish are safest.
Scan your species!
Because different species of fish live in different regions, they are exposed to different chemicals and therefore have different levels of hazard. For example, skipjack tuna is considered safe to eat 2-3 times a week, albacore tuna only once a week, and bigeye tuna is not recommended for children or pregnant women at all. Pay attention to the labels on the fish you bring home to ensure your little birdees get the best.
Store and cook carefully.
Even if a fish contains zero mercury or other toxins before it is caught, there are plenty of things that can go wrong before it ends up on your dinner table. Age or improper refrigeration can make any type of fish dangerous. Here’s how to choose, store, and serve fish safely, based on these guidelines by the FDA:
- Always check packaged or frozen fish to make sure it is within its sell-by date and that its packaging is intact. Watch out for frozen fish with packaging covered in ice crystals; this could mean it has thawed and been refrozen.
- When choosing whole fish, look for ones with clear, bulgy eyes and no dark spots or discoloration. A good way to check the freshness of whole fish or fish fillets is to poke the meat gently. It should spring back like a cushion. If the fish retains a dent where it was pressed, it’s not at its freshest.
- Cook and serve fish within two days of purchase. If you know you won’t serve it in that time, wrap it tightly in plastic or foil and freeze it as soon as you get it home. Thaw frozen fish slowly by moving it from the freezer to the fridge the day before cooking. Never let fish thaw at room temperature, and never leave cooked seafood sit out for more than two hours before refrigerating.
- Cooked fish should reach an internal temperature of 145 ºF before it’s eaten. For best results you should use a meat thermometer, but you can also judge based on how the fish looks. Well-cooked fish is opaque and separates easily when flaked with a fork.
We hope this guide helps you pick the best fish for yourself and your little ones. Moms are on the front lines of making healthy and eco-friendly choices for what our families put in their bodies, as well as what they wear on the outside. Two Birdees is committed to helping you choose the best in organic baby clothes and eco-friendly baby clothes so your birdees can be healthy and happy, inside and out! Visit our brands page for more information about the sustainable garments and accessories we carry. Here’s to wishing you happy and healthy eating!