Mercury-laden Fish

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Mercury-laden Fish

For anyone who has been pregnant you can probably remember those moments when you were suddenly put on an enforced-diet-restriction…no ham, no fresh cheese, no salad bars, and definitely not too much fish – all that mercury!

I must admit that it was the fish-thing that hit me the hardest. The very strong message for a pregnant woman is to reduce her fish consumption. It got me thinking about the implications: are our waters that polluted ? Are the fish we eat filled with mercury?? Is it safe to eat fish at any time (let along while pregnant)? Should we be feeding it to our young children?

This was a stark contradiction to the ‘other’ message to eat lots of oily fish because of the precious omega 3s it contains, which are so important to the growing fetal-brain Aren’t we supposed to eat extra to get the omega 3? At the time, I just resorted to eating lots of omega 3 in supplemental form – I made sure it was a high quality oil – not a cheap version in the supermarket.

It was still one of those questions that has stuck with me, and I recently heard a good explanation that helps me understand why it is indeed okay to eat fish, without the fear of mercury contamination. The reason is that within the fish is other  co-factors. One of particular importance is selenium. It helps to bind any mercury and transport it right through the gut. This provides protection to the body since the mercury is attracted to the selenium and is bound by it.

Ocean fish are very rich in selenium so are considered safe to eat without the risk of mercury contamination.

However, whale and shark, or fresh water fish from a contaminated source can be a problem because they could have a higher ratio of mercury to selenium. If possible stay away from  consuming whale and shark. (lets not even get into the philosophical ramifications of that comment!). Swordfish and king mackerel have almost equal amounts of mercury:selenium so best for a pregnant woman to avoid too.

It is possible to supplement with selenium for protection but Selenium is contained in various foods so is not necessary unless a mercury exposure has occurred. Ideal amount to supplement is 200mcg/day. Foods that are a good source of selenium is:

  1. Brazil Nuts     
  2. Sunflower Seeds
  3. Fish (tuna, halibut, sardines, flounder, salmon)
  4. Shellfish (oysters, mussels, shrimp, clams, scallops) 
  5. Meat (Beef, liver, lamb, pork)
  6. Poultry (chicken, turkey)
  7. Eggs
  8. Mushrooms (button, crimini, shiitake)
  9. Grains (wheat germ, barley, brown rice, oats)
  10. Onions


So rest easy that eating ocean fish is safe – enjoy at least 2 meals per week to reap the benefits. Don’t forget to introduce to your little ones too – make some fun recipes like home made fish fingers, or mix up to make fish cakes. Our family favourite is “junk food fish” which is fish cut into strips and fried in a ground nut coating – its very simple and tastes so good!

For more information watch this 20 minute documentary










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