The research is undeniable: Eating fish is good for you. But be mindful of the kind you eat and how much.
Ken Gall, a seafood technology specialist with the New York Sea Grant Program and Cornell University, notes that 30 years of studies have found links between eating seafood and reductions in a host of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's and macular degeneration. "It's the omega-3 fatty acids," he says. "Pretty much all aquatic organisms have some omega-3s, and the fattier fish are going to have more."
Gall, who is based at Stony Brook University, and other researchers from around the country operate Seafood Health Facts (seafoodhealthfacts.org), a website aimed at giving consumers objective, scientific-based information. The website includes a wealth of resources, including a table that ranks commonly eaten fish and shellfish by their omega-3 levels. (Herring, salmon and mackerel top the list.)
But while eating fish is good, more is not necessarily better. For example, as beneficial as salmon is, it can contain low levels of mercury. "Pretty much all the instances where people have had diagnosed problems was because they repeatedly ate large amounts of the same product over and over." Gall recommends following the U.S. dietary guidelines of two 8-ounce servings of seafood a week. And don't eat the same type of fish every time. "Eat a variety of different products," he says.
As for whether to buy fish that is fresh or frozen, wild caught or farmed-raised, Gall says they are all identical nutritionally. But Long Islanders should take advantage of what is caught here, especially this time of year. "Go with the variety that's available locally," Gall says. In the summer and fall, there's an abundance of locally harvested shellfish, bluefish, tilefish and flounder, among others.
As for sushi, Gall has some caveats, especially for older people. In April, a salmonella outbreak linked to spicy tuna rolls sickened scores of people around the country, including several on Long Island.
"Sushi is a raw, ready-to-eat food, and a raw food is always going to be higher risk," Gall says. The potential health problems are magnified for those with chronic diseases, plus the older you get, the harder it is to recover from a food-borne illness. "The bottom line for older people is, unless you have a lot of confidence in the sanitary conditions where you purchase that item, beware."