Why and how should you eat fish?
Fish and fishery products have valuable nutritional qualities that make them particularly beneficial foods, in particular to meet our needs for omega-3 fatty acids. Even so, they can accumulate chemical contaminants by filtering seawater and feeding on other fish. Here are some tips to help you make the most of their nutritional benefits without taking any risks.
Why is eating fish important for your health?
Fish are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, some of which are essential for the development and functioning of the nervous system and which can help prevent cardiovascular disease.
This is the case in particular for oily fish, some of which contain higher levels of “long-chain” omega-3 fatty acids (eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)).
Fish are also a source of protein, minerals such as phosphorus, iodine, zinc, copper, selenium and fluoride, and vitamins A, D and E, which are essential for good health.
How can eating too much fish be harmful?
Fish can be contaminated by environmental pollutants including dioxins, PCBs and methylmercury, which can have adverse health effects in the event of overexposure. PCBs and dioxins are found primarily in the oiliest fish, such as eel, as well as in some bioaccumulative fish, such as barbel, bream, carp, and catfish. Methylmercury is found in wild predatory fish such as tuna, monkfish and sea bream.
How can you enjoy the benefits of fish while limiting the risks?
To ensure that people can enjoy the benefits of eating fish and meet their needs for long-chain omega-3 fatty acids while minimising the risk of overexposure to certain contaminants, ANSES has defined several recommendations for the general public and susceptible population groups.
For the general public:
- eat fish twice a week, including one portion of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring) and one portion of another fish (pollock, hake, cod, sole, etc.);
- vary both the species of fish and their source;
- only eat eel on an exceptional basis;
- for recreational fishing, comply with the non-consumption recommendations issued in certain zones.
For susceptible population groups:
During pregnancy and in the first three years of life, a child's brain is particularly vulnerable to the toxic action of chemical contaminants, including methylmercury and PCBs. That is why specific recommendations have been defined for pregnant and breastfeeding women and for children under the age of three years.
For pregnant and breastfeeding women and children under the age of three:
- Limit the consumption of wild predatory fish (monkfish or angler fish, sea bass, bonito, orange roughy, grenadier, halibut, pike, sea bream, skate, cutlassfish and tuna);
- Avoid the consumption of swordfish, marlin, siki shark, shark and sea lamprey.
For freshwater fish, it is advisable to limit the consumption of eel, barbel, bream, carp and catfish:
- to once every two months for women of childbearing age and pregnant or breastfeeding women, as well as children under the age of three years and young and adolescent girls,
- to twice a month for the rest of the population.