Guidance on Eating Fish
Fish is an excellent source of protein, healthy fats and other nutrients important to a healthy diet. However some types of fish contain higher levels of mercury than others which can be harmful to your health if consumed often. The key to including fish in your diet is to eat different varieties and choose wisely.
The Guide to Eating Fish helps women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and people caring for infants and children make heal thy fish choices.
Contact York Region Health Connection for a free copy of our Guide to Eating Fish wallet card.
Is Fish Good for my Health?
Yes, fish is good for your health. Fish provide an excellent source of protein and many types of fish are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3s).
Omega-3s are important at all ages, to reduce the risk of heart disease.
DHA, a type of omega-3, helps develop the brain and eyes of fetuses, infants and children. DHA may also improve language skills and coordination in infants and children.
DHA is especially important for:
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Women who might become pregnant
- Infants and children
Babies who are breastfed can get DHA through breast milk if the mother includes DHA in her diet.
What About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish?
Almost all fish and shellfish contain mercury, however some types contain higher levels than others and are more of a concern. Exposure to high amounts of mercury can be harmful, especially for pregnant women, infants and children.
Fetuses and infants that are exposed to high levels of mercury may experience delays in walking, talking, memory and attention span. High levels of mercury can be toxic for both children and adults and can increase their risk of heart disease.
What About Salmon?
Salmon is very high in omega-3s and low in mercury. However, there has been some concern about the level of PCBs (a pollutant) in salmon. If you follow this guide and include a variety of fish in your diet, your level of exposure to PCBs should be acceptable for both farmed and wild salmon.
Wild salmon is lower in PCBs than farmed salmon. Canned salmon is generally wild.
What About Raw Fish?
Pregnant women should not consume any raw fish, including that found in sashimi and sushi dishes. Raw fish may contain bacteria or parasites that can lead to illness and/or fetal complications. In addition, sashimi and sushi dishes often contain fresh or frozen tuna, which are high in mercury.
Remember, it is important to include fish in a healthy diet. York Region Community and Health Services advises women to continue eating fish high in omega-3 fats and low in mercury during pregnancy and while breastfeeding because of the many health benefits it provides.
These guidelines apply only to fish bought at the market or store. For information on fish caught in local lakes or streams, visit the Ministry of the Environment’s Guide to Eating Ontario Sport Fish.
Food Safety Resources
The Guide to Eating Ontario Sport Fish
Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide
Human Health Risk Assessment of Mercury in Fish and Health Benefits of Fish Consumption
Safe Food Handling Tips
Sustainable Seafood Options