• Julie Allesch, IHP

Eating Low on the Fish Food Chain

Last year I went through a health journey that began with a painful rash and ended with the discovery and subsequent removal of high levels of lead and mercury in my body. Now that I have reduced my body burden of toxic heavy metals and am symptom-free, I have made some changes in my life to reduce my ongoing exposures to these and other toxins. Because I don’t have any tooth fillings in my mouth, silver amalgam (mercury-containing) fillings were not a potential source of exposure, but I had eaten some species of fish that commonly have high levels of mercury.

Of this fresh catch of the day at Keys Fisheries, I would choose either the hogfish or snapper

For the most part, the largest predatory fish have the highest levels of mercury. Mercury bio-accumulates in fish, which means that it remains and builds up in each level up the food chain as one fish eats another. That is why wild sockeye salmon, which are a large fish but are vegetarian, are a great fish to eat when trying to avoid mercury and get high levels of beneficial omega-3 fats at the same time. One fish perhaps even better due to high omega-3’s and low mercury is sardines. I know, many of you are saying ugh! I am one of them! But I am trying to learn to eat them because of their health benefits. I have talked to many people who actually enjoy them, so I’m hoping maybe it’s an acquired taste? Or a great recipe? I’m still working on that.

Perhaps the culinary darling in the fish world is tuna, but several varieties contain high levels of mercury. Whether it's sushi-grade ahi or canned albacore, many people love tuna. Both are things I have reduced in my life due to their high mercury levels. I love them, but I just make other choices now. There are other things to eat, and I really don’t want to repeat the metal-chelation protocol that I went through last year, which was the process of pulling the metals out of my body, binding them and excreting them out of the body.

So when it comes to making choices of what fish to eat for example when I am out at a restaurant, I just now look for the smaller fish. While on a recent fishing charter I was discussing metal exposure with an avid fisherman who also knew about mercury toxicity, and learned a simple guide to not eat any fish larger than a dinner plate. This applies if you are catching it, of course, when you can actually see the size of the whole fish before it is cleaned. So for those who don’t fish, learning the sizes of different fish or looking at the chart listing mercury levels of different species is how you can learn to reduce your exposure of this metal. There are so many delicious choices to make, it doesn’t matter to me really to swap one fish for another. And now that I have reduced my body burden of heavy metals, and do seasonal detoxes to keep up with removing toxins along the way that I am exposed to, I know my liver has a better chance of keeping up with its very important job. If I occasionally eat some tuna, spanish mackeral, or the big African pompano I recently caught, I feel free to enjoy, knowing my body is now better in balance. The rest of the time, I enjoy the smallest fish I can find.

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