There has been much back and forth over the years about the safety of seafood due to the potential of mercury contamination as this heavy metal moves up the food chain. While the beneficial nature of eating seafood (and that means sushi) are already widely known, the actual risk that consumers take upon themselves has been argued for some time now. Recently, a report from the Institute of Medicine has concluded that the benefits of eating seafood far outweigh the potential risks. To pull a few points from the report (the full text being available in this PDF):
- Women who are or may become pregnant or who are breast-feeding may benefit from eating seafood, especially those kinds which have relatively higher concentrations of EPA and DHA. A reasonable amount would be two 3-ounce servings per week, but they can safely consume up to 12 ounces per week. They can consume up to 6 ounces of white tuna — that is, albacore — weekly, and should avoid eating large predatory fish such as shark, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel.
- Children ages 12 and under are given the same guidance as pregnant women, except that serving sizes should be age-appropriate.
- Adolescent and adult males and women who will not become pregnant may reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease by eating seafood regularly — for example, two 3-ounce servings per week. Those who consume more than two servings per week should choose a variety of seafood to reduce risk for exposure to contaminants from a single source.
- Adult men and females who are at risk of coronary heart disease may reduce that risk by consuming seafood regularly — for example, two 3-ounce servings per week. There may be additional benefits from including seafood selections high in EPA and DHA, although supporting evidence is limited.
There are critics, of course, and some of their points are valid (e.g. mercury is bad for you) but the one thing that I think folks can take away from this report is that seafood, like many other foods, is good for you in moderation. Rather than jump on the bandwagon as say “Oh No! Mercury! it might make sense to put the food in context with the rest of the world. There is mercury in the soil, in the ocean water, and just about everywhere else you can imagine, thanks to the industrial revolution. That is not to say ‘don’t worry about it’ but what is important is to understand that in order to avoid it, you would have to live in a bubble. But seafood (or sushi) will not be the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak. Obviously there is no need to seek out things that may be more harmful than good, but seafood in moderation (and that mean sushi!) is a valid part of a balanced diet, and there is no need to avoid it for fear of contamination.
If you eat sushi as much as I do, you may have something to worry about, but for your average sushi restaurant-goer, eating sushi is a good thing. For many reasons, I worry about a lot of things that will affect the quality and duration of my life, but eating sushi is not one of them. Hopefully many of you feel the same way.
The sushi guy.