Heal Yourself At Home

FISH - Getting Omega-3 EPA / DHA by Eating Fish

Fish obtain Omega-3 from the Sun

Phytoplankton, plant-like organisms floating near the surface of the water, converts sunlight into food - Phytoplankton is eaten by zooplankton (animal-like plankton), which is eaten by small fish, which themselves are eaten by bigger fish. Thus, all fish obtain their sun-derived, electron-rich, Omega-3 fatty acids from eating plankton or other fish.

Ideally, we should be able to get EPA / DHAdirectly by eating oily, ocean or freshwater fish, so then,

“What's the Catch?”–

Many Fish Contain Absorbed Pollutants / Contaminants

Industrial agriculture produces a toxic runoff into our rivers and streams, and then on into the oceans - Industrial processes release chemicals into the air, which also end up in our waters. There are legitimate concerns over the level of contaminants in our fish supply, including:

✔ PCBs(polychlorinated biphenyls) -industrial lubricantsbanned by U.S. in '70s, still used overseas

✔ Pesticides/Incesticides - E.g. toxaphene , dieldrin (banned in '80s in U.S.);

✔ Dioxins(industrial byproducts);

✔ Mercury (in its most toxic, water-soluble form: methylmercury)and other heavy metals (e.g. cadmium, lead).

Generally, the larger the fish, those that have lived longest, and those at the top of the food chain have absorbed the most contaminants (this would include tuna, mackerel, pike and bass).

Where is the contaminant mercury coming from?

✔ ~40% is from natural sources - E.g. the earth's crust, volcanoes

✔ ~26% from coal-fired utilities - 40 tons mercury/year in the U.S.

✔ ~34% from other polluting sources - E.g. after coal-burning plants, the top source of mercury pollution in the environment is the manufacture of shampoo and other detergents.

Health effects of exposure to Contaminates in Fish

–   Mercury poisoning - from contaminated food can have detrimental effects on the central nervous system, such as:

impairment of vision,

✔ Motor in-coordination

✔ Loss of feeling

✔ Seizures, very severe neurological impairment, and death – at high doses

✔ Impair development in fetuses and infants.

–    PCBs –Linked to:

Reproductive and developmental effects in humans and animals

✔ Lower IQ, hyperactivity, shortened attention span, and delayed acquisition of reading skills with exposure before birth

–   Dioxins - have been linked to:

Reproductive and developmental effects

✔ Altered immune function

✔ Disruption of the endocrine system.

–   Toxaphene and dieldrin -exposure can damage the nervous system.

Some Toxin-absorbing Fish are just NOT Meant to be Eaten –E.g. swordfish, shark, catfish, and all shellfish are doing a wonderful job absorbing toxins from the water

Potentially Clean, edible fish have FINS and SCALES

"Whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat. And all that have not fins AND scales in the seas . . . they shall be an abomination unto you."

–   Leviticus 11:9-10

“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collectedthe good fishin baskets, but threw the badaway”.

–   Matthew 14:47-48

Most biblically “unclean” fish are either bottom-dwellers or predatory scavengers doing an excellent job of detoxifying the waters - Shellfish are found in coastal waters, which supply their diet of industrial deposits, sewage, and fish excrement. Shellfish have been directly traced as a cause of gastroenteritis, hepatitis epidemics, and typhoid fever.

Mercury (Hg) in Fish






Ocean Perch




WILD Pacific Salmon (incl. canned)



Tilapia (Nile Perch)


FARMED salmon(incl. canned)





FARMED Lake / Rainbow Trout



WILD Rainbow Trout


~ 9

Haddock, Hake







Croaker (Atlantic)


N. Atlantic Mackerel




Plaice, sole, flounder














Chunklight tuna (skipjack)






Perch (freshwater)









Spanishmackerel (S. Atlantic)




Buffalo fish




Weakfish (Sea Trout)




Saltwater Bass



White croaker (Pacific)





Tuna (Canned, solid/chunk white Albacore)


Tuna (Fresh/Frozen)


Spanish mackerel-Gulf of Mexico


Orange Roughy




King Mackerel (Gulf of Mexico)



Some biblically clean fish have higher contaminants than others

–   E.g. USDA data (~2002) shows thatPCB levels of farm-raised trout:

On par with wild trout (11ng/g)

✔ About 50% less than farm-raised salmon

✔ Have low methylmercury levels.

–   Mercury levels vary greatly in different fish –see chart at right.

Some toxins accumulate in fish fat or liver and some in fish flesh

Mercuryis found predominantly in the body of the fish, not so much in its liver oil -since mercury is water soluble. The U.S. government cautions pregnant women and small children against eating certain fish likely to have high mercury content. The chart above provides a guideline by giving average mercury content in only the “bible-clean”fish, taken from FDA surveys 1990-2003. Studies show that selenium, also found in fish, has a protective effect against methylmercury (MeHg) toxicity.

PCBs primarily accumulate in fat - Locally caught fatty fish tend to have the highest evels of these neurotoxins. With emission bans, PCB levels have declined ~90%, but they still persist in the environment.

Contaminants In Perspective -To put contaminant levels in perspective, we need to consider that fish account for only 9% of contaminants in the U.S. food supply, 90% of US contaminants come from meat, vegetables and dairy.

For example, even though a serving of farmed salmon contains many more PCBs than a serving of other foods, the more meaningful PCB level comparison should be made with the typical amounts of each food we eat each year, as seen in this chart,for example, we eat far more beef than salmon.

PCB Standards for ”Bought vs. Caught” in U.S.

Caught - The strict EPA health-based standard for pcbs in recreationally caught fish, allows for no more than a 1 in 100,000 risk for cancer, but was designed to protect native Indian populations (surveys found that Oregon tribes consume upwards of 12oz. fish per person per day!).

Bought - commercially sold salmon must comply with the 1984 FDA PCB standard, which allows 500 times more PCBs than the EPA standard.FDA tolerances have not, however, been updated for findings of more recent studies on PCB cognitive impairment.

Farmed vs. Wild Fish

The key difference between the quality of farmed and wild fish is in what the fish eat

As an Example, here is a Comparison of Farmed vs. Wild Salmon

Farmed salmon

✔ Mainly raised in saltwater net-pens in the ocean

✔ Primarily eat a high-fat feed of fish oil and fish meal/pellets - made from ground-up small fish, such as anchovies.

✔ Contain higher levels of saturated fats and omega-6 than wild salmon(USDA) twice as much saturated fat as wild Pacific pink or chum salmon. Processors intentionally fatten the salmon to maximize market weight.

✔ Farmed fish also have higher Omega-6 fat content.

✔ Farmed Salmon in the Pink -Farmed salmon are fed pigment-fortified pellets, chemical dyes added to color their flesh anappealing salmon pink; otherwise the flesh would be grey... a merchant may even get to pick the exact shade of pink! Two 1970 Russian studies on Red Dye #2 showed that extremely small amounts of it caused birth defects, stillbirths, fetal deaths, and sterility in rats. The report was translated and given to the FDA, who completely ignored it.

“Something Fishy?”

Farmed salmon contain an average of at least 5 times higher contaminant levels than wild salmon (particularly antibiotics, PCBs and toxaphene).

Even thelowest contaminated Atlantic farmed salmon from Washington State and Chilehad significantly higher contaminants(pcbs, dioxins and dieldrin) than wild Pacific salmon.

In addition to accumulating toxins from their feed, Farmed salmon receive drugs to control parasites and promote growth,and more antibiotics by weight than any other livestock - Even so, all salmon were found below WHO, EPA and FDA action levels, and therefore considered safe to eat.

Major producers of farmed salmon are Norway (43%), Chile (26%) and U.K. (13%).

In the U.S., farmed salmon comes from Chile (56%), Canada (31%), U.S. (6%) and Europe (7%) - Most contaminated salmon come from Europe.

This data taken from a comprehensive study published in the journal “Science”in 2004 (Hites et al), conducted on 700 farmed and wild salmon (~ 2 metric tons) collected worldwide.

Wild salmon

✔ Eat a large variety of aquatic organisms - such as krill, zooplankton (e.g. larval stage of crustaceans, mollusks, fish), and small fish.

✔ Canned salmon is usually wild salmon

✔ Wild salmon has the genuine and powerful antioxidant-rich orange coloring astaxanthin.

Omega-3 IN FISH

High EPA /DHA fish include:salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, anchovies and trout

Feed Changes bringing a “NET LOSS” of Omega-3 fish need a diet of between 1-2% Omega-3 fatty acids to grow normally, which for farmed fish is obtained from a diet of ~30% fish meal / 10% fish oil of small fish. Since this source is being tapped out, the industry has more recently been challenged to find alternative food sources, and have turned to plant proteins as a substitute. Fat content of the fish then corresponds to the plant oils, with their lowered Omega-3content.


✔   Omega-3 content the same whether Farmed or Wild -USDA 2002 test data showed that farmed salmon fat contains an average of 35% less Omega-3 fatty acids than wild salmon. However, since farmed salmon contain 52% more total fat than wild salmon, for the mathematically-challenged, this means that the total Omega-3 fatty acid content in a portion of farmed and wild salmon is similar.


ALL trout in U.S. markets are farm raised (mainly from Idaho and N. Carolina) in fresh water troughs - Their feed of oily fish, such as anchovy, herring, menhaden, and mackerel determines their high Omega-3 content. Other feed ingredients in their generalized (usually proprietary) diet are poultry by-product meal, soybean meal, and wheat grain.

“A Fine Kettle of Fish ! –To eat or not to eat?”

The ideal edible fish has fins and scales and swam free in open, unpolluted waters - Such clean wild fish provide beneficial omega-3, and should be eaten at will. A federal law requires supermarkets to label the country of origin of fish, and indicate whether they were farm-raised or harvested in open waters (i.e. wild).Unfortunately, most fish available in the U.S. market are either farmed (including most restaurant fish), or locally caught, either of which almost certainly contain some health-risking contaminants.

We should therefore weigh the risk of eating possibly contaminated fish against its potential benefits - The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute sponsored a thorough clinical review of the evidence, published in JAMA, October 2006, and concluded that:

“The benefits of modest fish consumption (2-3 servings per week) greatly outweigh the risks, and the benefits are greater for oily fish. Also, “Avoidance of modest fish consumption due to confusion regarding risks and benefits could result in thousands of excess CHD deaths annually, and suboptimal neurodevelopment in children.”

The researchers focused on cardiovascular health in adults and brain development in infants, finding that eating fish reduces coronary death by 36% and total mortality by 17%. They also found no definite evidence that LOW-level mercury exposure from seafood consumption had harmful effects on health in adults, although they did find that mercury from eating some fish may lessen the cardio-vascular benefit. Their findings agreed with the recommendations of the EPA and FDA that women of childbearing age, nursing mothers and young children should eat 2 servings per week, butexclude the “Big Fish(ALL large predators containing high mercury levels):


Tilefish(1.45 ppm mercury)


Swordfish (.98 ppm mercury)

Co-author of the JAMA published review, Eric Rimm, Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, emphasized:

"The health benefitsof the protein and omega-3fatty acids found in wild salmon, or farmed salmon from Canada or Chile, where the US gets most of its salmon, will almost definitely outweigh the risks for American adults, where the leading cause of death is from cardiovascular diseases."

Tuna (large) >

The Conclusion to this “Fish Tale”

We should eat a variety of only the“bible-clean”fish, 2-3 times / week, favoring OILY, high omega-3fish - We can also make wise choices, taking into account the relative contamination level of different fish.

Biblically clean, Edible Fish (with fins and scales)include:

Albacore . Anchovy . Barracuda . Bass (Fresh Water) . Bass (saltwater) . Black fish . Bluefish . Bowfin . Buffalo . Carp . Characin . Cod . Croaker. Darter . Flounder . Gaby Grayling . Grouper . Haddock . Halibut . Herring . Jacks . Mackerel . Mackerel (King) . Mackerel (Spanish) . Mahi Mahi . Minnow . Mooneye . Mullet . Needlefish . Orange Roughy . Perch . Pike . Pollock . Pompano. Red Fish . Salmon . Sardines . Shad . Silver side . Smelt . Snapper . Sole . Sucker . Sunfish . Surf fish .Tarpons . Trout . Tuna (chunk, skip jack) . Tuna (large) . Weakfish . Whitefish

Dark Blue= High Mercury Content

Sadly, most large tuna, E.g. SOLID white albacore, is now toxic with mercury, from swimming in polluted waters.

Fish with the LEAST contaminant health hazards include:

✔  Farmed rainbow trout

✔  Anchovies Sole

✔   Wild Pacific salmon (Sockeye, Coho, Chum, Pink) -LEAST contaminated and can be safely consumed fresh, frozen or canned

Also safe are:

✔  Cod

✔  Mahi mahi

✔  Tilapia

✔  Canned Light, chunk tuna (smaller skipjack or yellowfin tuna, NOT solid / chunk white albacore)

Wild Atlantic and farmed Pacific salmon- in short supply and not readily available

Salmon Consumption Advisory - Salmon contains every amino acid, an abundant supply of essential fatty acids, low saturated fat compared to meat and dairy foods, and every vitamin and mineral the body requires for great health. Consumption of salmon in balance with other foods is a healthy choice, even considering its contaminants, which are also in many other food choices.

Unclean Fish - include:

Abalone, Bullhead, Catfish, Eel, Marlin, Octopus, Paddlefish, Sculpin, Shark, Squid,Sturgeon, Swordfish, Tilefish, All Shellfish, Whale

“Fishes Dishes”

Steam, Bake or Broil-these are the healthiest cooking methods to protect nutrients. Frying fish can lose much of the original EFA benefits, and can introduce trans fats.

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