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Fish: Know Your Limits

Fish: Know Your Limits

Fish is a healthy source of high quality protein, vitamins and minerals and is low in saturated fat. Even the more fatty fishes such as mackerel, herring and trout are good for you due to the high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have the ability to raise HDL, the "good" cholesterol that helps prevent heart disease and decreases levels of LDL, the "bad" cholesterol and triglycerides.

Those who eat fish three times a week show a significant decrease in heart disease rates. This may explain why heart disease is rare among the Eskimos of Greenland, Japanese fisherman, American Indians of the Pacific Northwest and the inhabitants of other regions in which fish is a main source of protein.

It is wise to consume some species of fish with caution due to high levels of mercury. Small aquatic animals can absorb mercury from the environment and through the food chain, become concentrated in larger, long-lived fish such as bass and walleye. The Great Lakes are abundant in these types of fish. It is not possible to destroy this contamination with proper cooking methods as with other food-borne contaminants. Therefore, it is important to know the source of the fish and seafood that you eat. In addition, always check the state-issued warnings on mercury levels in certain bodies of water.

General Guidelines for Eating Fish

Cooking Fish

  • When choosing saltwater fish, try to have two servings of fish such as tuna and salmon each week.
  • Pregnant women, nursing mothers and children should avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. These contain the highest levels of methyl mercury. Shellfish, canned fish, smaller ocean fish or farm-raised fish are better options.
  • Avoid raw or undercooked seafood unless you are certain the items are fresh and from a reliable source.

Guidelines from the Department of Natural Resources for eating fish:

  • Women beyond childbearing years and men may eat unlimited panfish such as bluegill, sunfish, crappie and perch and one meal a week of walleye, northern pike, catfish, sturgeon and bass.
  • Women of childbearing years, nursing mothers and children under 15 should eat no more than one meal a week of panfish and one meal a month of walleye, northern pike and other lake fish listed above.
  • Choose farm-raised fish whenever possible to avoid contamination.

Guidelines for storing and cooking fish and seafood:

  • Fish and shellfish should be stored between 32 and 38 degrees for fresh and zero to 10 degrees for frozen.
  • When storing fish, always wrap the fish or kept it in airtight, moisture-proof packages.
  • Fresh fish should be used within one to two days; frozen fish should be used within one to six months.
  • If fish smells like fish, it is not at its best. Fish should have no smell and, when cooked, should produce no odor in the kitchen.
  • Fish should not be over cooked (the ideal is flaky, just shy of translucent), but it should not be undercooked either (bloody at the bone or actually translucent).

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