For years, research has been reeling in good news on the myriad benefits of eating fish – chief among them,  protection against heart disease.  But casting a wider net has brought up a new cardiovascular concern, linking high mercury intake with a higher heart attack risk.

A study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine looked at levels of both mercury and DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid important to maintaining normal heart rate, blood pressure and triglyceride levels) among heart attack patients from eight European countries and Israel, comparing them against a control group.  The results made our heart skip a beat: Mercury levels were 15% higher among those who’d suffered their first heart attack and those in the top 20% of  mercury intake  had a 116% higher chance of a first heart attack than those in the lowest 20% of mercury intake. But don’t forgo fish, the top 20% in DHA intake had a 41% reduced risk for first heart attack compared to those in the lowest 20% of intake.

It’s also important to put mercury worries into context – frequent consumption of other animal proteins, particularly those high in artery-clogging saturated fat, like red meat and whole dairy, are linked to higher risk of multiple ailments.  For example,  high meat consumption is linked to a 30-40% higher risk of colorectal cancer.  So, what to do?  We recommend that in order to derive maximum benefits and minimum risk from fish, aim to make fish one-third of your monthly protein intake.

This equates to about 20 seafood/fish entrees a month. If this seems like a lot, consider that  Dole’s Chairman and Owner, David H. Murdock, eats fish at least 60 times a month — and has tested normal mercury levels. How?  He opts for low-mercury varieties — as well as lots of tropical fruit, which research suggests may block mercury absorption.

See the chart below to find out which fish you can eat more or less frequently and which you should avoid.

Monthly Frequency: Fish:
4+ Black sea bass, wild Alaskan salmon, canned light tuna,   albacore tuna (U.S. & Canada), skate, monkfish, rainbow trout (farmed),   snapper, halibut
2-3 Yellow fin tuna, grouper, Chilean sea bass, blue crab,   wild oysters
1-2 Orange roughy, wild salmon (Washington), flounder, farmed   Atlantic salmon, lingcod, rockfish
Avoid Shark, swordfish, tilefish, bluefish, King mackerel, Bluefin   tuna, marlin

At Dole Headquarters, our employee cafeteria serves up fish every day, as part of our Employee Wellness Program.  Here’s a perennial favorite we all love:  Caribbean Salmon Patties with Black Bean and Pineapple Salsa.

Published March 1, 2014