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Does Your Tuna Contain Mercury?

John Platt, January 03, 2017

Tuna is one of the most popular fish in the world, but choosing the wrong tuna can have an impact on your health (not to mention on the environment).

You may not be used to thinking of tuna in any way other than cans, but the mighty fish are actually one of the top predators in the sea. They eat lots of smaller fish and live fairly long lives. As a result, their bodies can accumulate a fair amount of toxins that build up over time and can be transmitted to whatever eats them. In other words, us.

Chief among those toxins is mercury, which comes to the ocean waters by way of coal-burning power plants. The mercury level in some tuna is so high that the FDA recommends pregnant women and some young children not eat the fish at all. When you add in the fact that some tuna is caught in an unsustainable manner, you end up with quite a quandary.

So if you're going to eat tuna, how do you know which is safest for you? The answer isn't always clear. According to the FDA (cited here by the NRDC), an American adult of average weight (let's say 150 pounds) can eat a can of albacore or white tuna once every 9 days or a can of chunk light tuna as often as every 3 days.

But testing by Consumer Reports found that this might not be an open-shut case. While they also found that light tuna generally contains much less mercury that albacore/white, they also found that some light tuna contains twice as much mercury as albacore!

The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch list (essential reading for seafood eaters) offers more guidance. The list says the best options are albacore/white tuna caught in the U.S. and Canadian Pacific using troll and pole-and-line fishing methods (the Watch list ranks fish not just by health content but by how sustainably it is caught) and skipjack tuna (marketed as light tuna), caught worldwide using the same methods. Seafood Watch recommends avoiding bigeye, chunk light, solid light, tongol and yellowfin tuna.

Few, if any, organizations are willing to go on the record to say which tuna brands are best, so ultimately, it's up to you. Read the package on your tuna cans to see what species of tuna they're selling as well as where and how it was caught. And as with all things, enjoying tuna in moderation is probably the best.

Tags: Fish, Food, Global Reaction News, Green Central, Sustainable

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