This great guest post was written by Dr. Serena Goldstein, a naturopathic doctor specializing in natural hormone balance! I encourage you to go check out her website!
Food quality worldwide – in particular within the USA – has declined over the decades; along with poor lifestyle habits, this has contributed to many chronic diseases. However, quality issues extend beyond just processed food, fast food chain, heavily sprayed produce and factory-house farming. Unfortunately, quality issues extend further into our fish, a wonderful food for us that is rich in healthy fats and protein, as various reports over the past 5-10 years have highlighted concerns around how the fish was processed and labeled.
Why Your Seafood Could Be Mislabeled
Back in 2013, the New York Times wrote an article about the inaccuracies discovered in fish delivered to stores and restaurants in the U.S. It is common for labels to get switched around i.e. the fish you’re consuming could be a completely different species to the one on the menu or label. For example, tilapia is commonly sold as red snapper, which is high in mercury and could be detrimental for chemically sensitive people and pregnant women who thought they were buying tilapia (Johnson, 2013).
Oceana, a company dedicated to saving the world’s oceans, noted how the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only checks about 2% of the fish caught to ensure standards (e.g. correct fish) are enforced (Barclay, 2013). Researchers also found an average seafood fraud rate of about 30%, and 58% of those could cause health complications, as they should have been screened for potential toxins or allergens (or could have been mislabeled) (Sifferlin, 2016).
Healthier Seafood Resources
Unfortunately, there isn’t a single organization that certifies the healthiest and most sustainable caught fish though there are a number of organizations that work to do their part in educating shoppers.
Oceana is pushing for more regulation from the U.S. government especially for fish at risk for higher fraud rates, as the European Union already has a setup that works (Sifferlin, 2016). They also have an interactive map here where you can see how fish are traded all over the world.
Seafoodwatch.org has a reputable guide one can take when shopping in order to make their choice about which fish to buy.
Marine Stewardship Council is an independent non-profit organization that sets a standard for sustainable fishing, commonly seen as a blue label in Whole Foods’ fish, is one of the gauges despite some controversy a few years ago for over-labeling fish due to financial interests (Zwerdling, 2013).
The Environmental Working Group (ewg.org) has a great guide too to further explain the multitude of labels for fish, as well as meat, poultry, and eggs.
On traceandtrust.com one can find restaurants that only allow places to be recommended if their food was raised by farmers, and caught by a fisherman in sustainable ways.
How To Find Healthy Seafood
Consuming the healthiest food possible can seem intimidating when regulations seem as vague or confusing as when we stand in front of an open refrigerator expecting certain foods to magically appear (and then they don’t). In the meantime, we can be mindful that this is present, and become an informed consumer. Inquire about the kind of fish, if it’s wild caught or farmed, and when/where/how it was caught are all good places to begin.
Here are some tried and tested rules to follow:
If a fish seems too cheap, then it probably is and moves on to another selection (aka too good to be true).
If you’re at a store or market, purchase the whole fish (they’ll usually prepare it for you) because it’s very difficult (unless they have really good glue or sewing skills) to swap out different parts (Oceana, 2013).
Consider buying directly from a fisherman or local fishery, and/or talk with your regular restaurants about their practices. Perhaps with enough people, they may even begin carrying sustainable fish if they are not already!
There’s a balance between being informed (or too informed) and turning a blind eye to present corruption. It’s evidenced in fish, meat/poultry, and eggs, and one can delve deeper to assess the foods that these animals are being fed. Poor regulation is also found in our beauty, cleaning, and skincare products where cancer-causing and hormone-disrupting chemicals are very much present. On a more positive note, our bodies can also be very resilient to our environment, though removing burdens when possible will not only benefit any present health concerns but also double as preventative care.