Mercury Levels in Fish: Is It a Worry, or Not?

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Filed Under: Heart Health, General Health, Food and Nutrition
Last Reviewed 11/20/2014

Salmon is filled with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. For many years I used to eat a good deal of fish in my healthy heart diet, primarily for its protein and omega-3 fatty acids. However, I later “scaled back” my fish intake because mercury levels in fish have been a major concern among researchers. They've long considered this exposure potentially harmful to cardiovascular health. 

But now a recent analysis from Harvard researchers shows that the mercury level in fish eaten by Americans is not a significant contributor to heart disease, stroke, or overall cardiovascular disease in adults. Their research showed that the heart benefits far outweighed any risk.

One potential reason for these findings is something I wrote about back in 2007, that most fish contain more selenium than mercury—and selenium neutralizes mercury. Now, experts are proposing that selenium specifically binds to mercury and neutralizes its toxicity.

What’s My Take on Mercury Levels in Fish?

While the Harvard study is encouraging, I’m still very wary about any mercury, a major neurotoxin, as a factor in the healthy heart diet. I would like to see a similar analysis done on fish consumption as a risk to nervous system health. Maybe selenium offsets enough mercury levels in fish to protect the nervous system as well.

For now I still recommend limiting intake of those species of fish with the highest content of mercury such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. If you like fish, as I do, opt for wild salmon, sardines, tuna, cod, and other low mercury fish as part of your heart-healthy diet.

Now, it’s your turn: What's your favorite way to eat fish in your healthy heart diet?

Here are some heart-healthy fish recipes you can try:

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