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Mercury more of a menace in tuna sushi; 5 tips for what to do.

Recommendations for healthful eating encourage seafood at least twice a week for its stash of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Sushi has become an increasingly popular way to meet that goal.

Alarming New Data. Besides the inherent risk from eating raw fish, a new safety concern has arisen from a recent analysis commissioned by The New York Times. Researchers from Rutgers University found that among 20 stores and restaurants in Manhattan that serve sushi, five dished up tuna sushi with mercury levels so high that the Food and Drug Administration could legally have removed the fish from the market.

The larger a fish, the more mercury it accumulates in its flesh. Most of the restaurant tuna sampled was bluefin, a popular type of tuna for sushi. Bluefin tuna is a large predatory fish at the top of the marine food chain, so it's not entirely surprising that bluefin tested worse than other fish. But the extent of the contamination was eye-opening.

Mercury Menace. Mercury is an environmental contaminant that originates from man-made sources, such as coal-burning power plants and medical waste incinerators, and then enters local waterways and hence into the ocean, where it accumulates in fatty fish.

The metal is known to have detrimental health effects in children as well as adults. Once ingested, it accumulates in the body after repeated exposure (from regularly eating bluefin tuna sushi, for example) and can cause neurological problems as well as increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Big Apple Not Unique. While the findings from New York City were alarming, they were not the first. Similar tests in Chicago, Los Angeles and San Diego have also found tuna sushi to contain potentially dangerous levels of mercury.

A recent report from Oceana, an international environmental group, revealed similar high levels of mercury in sushi. In fact, the average mercury levels in tuna sushi were found to be higher than in king mackerel, one of three fish (along with shark and swordfish) that the Food and Drug Administration singles out as being the most contaminated by mercury and advises women of childbearing age and children to avoid completely. For the full Oceana report, log onto

A Sushi Quota? If you eat sushi regularly, take note of these sobering findings. Because no government agency routinely tests seafood for mercury, and the FDA has no specific data on bluefin tuna, it's buyer beware.

The Good News. A study from Harvard's Center for Risk Assessment found the benefits of eating seafood outweigh the harm if you limit your intake of the riskiest choices. For what else you can do, see below.

EN's Safe Seafood Suggestions

* Don't make sushi a daily indulgence. While eating fish twice a week is good for your heart, don't eat sushi more often than that unless you know it's a safe source.

* Ask what kind of tuna is used to make sushi. Avoid bluefin and bigeye tuna (also sold as "ahi").

* Choose sushi sources that the National Resources Defense Council recommends as low in mercury: ika (squid), karel (flatfish), masu (trout), tako (octopus) and uni (sea urchin roe). For more, visit

* Opt to buy fresh tuna to cook rather than eating sushi. Oceana's analysis found the types of tuna used for sushi contain three times the mercury of fresh tuna sold as steaks or fillets.

* Consider switching to other seafood sources of omega-3s. Five of the most commonly eaten types of seafood that are low in mercury are canned light tuna, salmon, shrimp, pollack and catfish. (Though the latter three are lower in omega-3s than the first two, they're still good sources.)
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Title Annotation:Earth Day Special
Publication:Environmental Nutrition
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2008
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