Consumer Reports Fuels Misinformation about Mercury in Seafood
We thought Groundhog Day came and went, but this week Consumer Reports – the group most known for reviewing electronics and appliances – is fueling misinformation about the healthfulness and safety of seafood, like it’s done in the past.
Seafood is a Superfood
On KOTA Territory News ABC, the anchor recommends seafood for those seeking to eat more healthfully in 2020. The segment could have – and should have – ended there. Reams of published peer-reviewed science conclude that the nutrients in fish and shellfish are essential for many functions in the body – including heart health and brain health. But, of course, that doesn’t make for all that interesting of news story. Enter Consumer Reports.
The segment features Amy Keating, a nutritionist from Consumer Reports, who starts by naming some of the known health benefits of seafood consumption, but veers quickly into mercury fear-mongering. She says eating more fish could increase your risk of mercury intake. What she leaves out of this ominous statement is… context.
The Mercury Reality Check
Trace amounts of mercury have been present in seafood since the beginning of time, yet there are no cases of mercury toxicity attributed to the normal consumption of commercial seafood found in any published peer-reviewed medical journal. By way of example, the average American eats 16 pounds of seafood annually. The average consumer in Japan eats 116 pounds. Even at nearly ten times the amount of seafood consumed, there is no epidemic of mercury toxicity in Japan.
As nutrition science shows, the benefits of seafood (including nutrients like protein, B vitamins, vitamin D, selenium, omega-3 fatty acids) outweigh the theoretical risks of mercury. Ms. Keating goes on to scare consumers aware from a handful of species, which contradicts the latest science and government recommendations. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there are no species off-limits to the general population. There are a handful of species that a very particular subset of the population should avoid – pregnant and breastfeeding women – but all other seafood types can, and should, be enjoyed as part the United States Department of Agriculture’s 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines that say to eat a variety of seafood at least twice per week, including during pregnancy. Unfortunately, most Americans fall short of this recommendation, due in part to confusing messages about seafood like those purported in this segment by Consumer Reports.
Low consumption of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish is the second-biggest dietary contributor to preventable deaths in the United States, taking a total of 84,000 lives each year. In fact, eating seafood just twice a week can reduce the risk of fatal heart attack by 36 percent.
Let’s leave nutrition recommendations to public health professionals and government nutrition experts… and let Consumer Reports do what it does best, evidenced by the current (Feb 7, 2020) snippet from the homepage of their website: