Nutrition reports encourage eating a greater amount of seafood for protein, vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids, which provide benefits to your brain and heart. But the message often is muddled by the grave concern that environmentalists have regarding overfishing and dangerous farming of certain species of fish and shellfish.
Debate over farm-raised versus wild-caught seafood rages on, with truths revealed about farmed salmon being given soy, cornmeal and canola oil, which changes the concentration of omega-3s within the fish. Farmed salmon also may be fed fish pellets that contain mercury and dioxides. But at the same time, according to Sophie Uliano, author of "Gorgeously Green," "some farmed fish -- such as tilapia, char and catfish -- are better bets because they are vegetarians and live in a mixture of fresh and salt water."
Confused yet? Most people are. But what many agree on is that they want to find seafood that is healthy to eat, caught in an eco-friendly manner, and not overfished to the point of near extinction. Here are just some of the smart ways that you can check out seafood types before you buy them:
--Look for the blue Marine Stewardship Council certification on your seafood's wrapper, and ask your seafood counter clerk to tell you whether the fish and shellfish behind the counter have MSC certification.
--Download pocket guides or an app with the pros and cons of each type of seafood and shellfish from Seafood Watch. These reports on the ecological health of each seafood type, depending on the region in which you live and its suppliers, can be printed out or displayed on your smartphone. You'll find out which seafood types are caught or farmed in environmentally friendly ways and which contain dangerous levels of toxins.
--Text the word "fish" followed by the type of fish (such as "tilapia") to 30644, and the nonprofit Blue Ocean Institute will text you right back to alert you as to whether that fish has high levels of mercury or PCBs, as well as whether it's a sustainable species.
--Talk to your fishmonger to ask where and how particular seafood is caught. Fishmongers will tell you whether the oysters you're eyeing have been imported from a far-off land or farmed locally, another green living value.
--Speak with your physician or a board-certified nutritionist to find out what types of seafood are advised -- or not advised -- for your particular health conditions.
*Know Your Safe Seafood
Here is just a sampling of information about seafood reported by environmental and nutrition experts, including Uliano:
--Best choices: anchovies, bluefish, calamari, catfish (farmed), clams, cod (Pacific black), crab (Dungeness, stone and blue), crawfish, halibut (Pacific), lobster (spiny), mussels, oysters (farmed), salmon (wild Alaskan), sardines, scallops (farmed bay) and tilapia (farmed).
--For occasional enjoyment: black sea bass, crab (snow), haddock (designated as hook-and-line), lobster (American/Maine), mahi-mahi, oysters (wild), scallops (wild bay, sea), shrimp (domestic, trawler-caught), swordfish (Pacific) and tuna (bigeye, yellowfin).
--Avoid: Chilean sea bass, cod (Atlantic), crab (imported king), flounder (yellowtail), grouper, haddock (trawled), halibut (Atlantic), prawns (tiger or imported), salmon (farmed), skate, shrimp (imported), snapper (red), tuna (bluefin) and turbot.
"The best way to assess seafood's current safety levels is to log on to a trusted source for up-to-the-minute reports on ecological impact news and detail-filled reports on each type of seafood," says Uliano, who suggests Eartheasy.com as a smart resource.
To investigate seafood specifically for its mercury risks, visit http://www.GotMercury.org, where you can use a mercury calculator. Just enter the type of seafood, the weight amount that you plan to eat, and your own weight. It will calculate the risk based on your specifications, so be honest about your weight! And plug in your kids' weights, too, to be sure that the seafood you're planning to serve isn't a greater danger to them than it is to you.
Pregnant women are especially cautioned against ingesting too much mercury, which is a great danger to their and their babies' health. "If you are pregnant," Uliano says, "you should avoid the following: shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, tuna steak, canned tuna, sea bass, Gulf Coast oysters, marlin, halibut, pike walleye, white croaker and largemouth bass." A pregnant woman's physician will advise on safe sources of omega-3s, which sometimes are included in prenatal vitamins.
*What About Sushi?
Yes, the seafood warnings apply even to the smallest slivers of seafood in your favorite sushi rolls, so you may wish to adjust your regular order to a sushi type containing a safer seafood choice.