Tuna is one of the healthiest foods on earth. It is inexpensive and rich in nutrients, including protein, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. When shopping for tuna, though, you can quickly find yourself confused in the grocery store aisle. “Is tuna safe for young children?” “What if I’m planning to get pregnant again?” “Does buying tuna make me responsible for killing dolphins?” you may wonder. A look at the most up-to-date consumer recommendations and how to buy tuna responsibly:
Once and for all, is tuna safe for pregnant and nursing women?
Here is the advise the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gives for women who might become or are pregnant, nursing moms and young children: “Eat up to 12 ounces a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish. Another commonly eaten fish, albacore (“white”) tuna, has more mercury than canned light tuna. So you may eat up to 6 ounces of albacore tuna per week.”
Dr. Andrew Weil, founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, on the other hand, writes in an article for the Huffington Post: “Research now suggests that the benefit to a baby’s neurological health from omega-3s appears to far outweigh the potential for harm from small amounts of mercury in fish tissues.” Omega-3 fatty acids, nutrients that are plentiful in tuna, also might help moms prevent and manage post partum depression.
So, if you fall in the above mentioned group of women, limit the amount of tuna you eat in a week but don’t avoid this healthy fish. Omega-3 is too essential for your health to miss out on the benefits.
How much tuna should your family eat?
According to HealthyTuna.com, a website operated by the National Fisheries Institute, government guidelines regarding tuna consumption are only geared towards women who are pregnant, are trying to become pregnant or are breastfeeding. Their advise regarding tuna consumption for everyone else is pretty clear: Eat more of it! Health experts agree that most of us would benefit from eating 8 to 12 ounces of seafood—including tuna—weekly for best health. However, we have a long way to go before we even reach that level: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates the average American eats only about one serving of seafood a week, approximately 3.5 ounces – though my guess is that’s more likely to be a serving of fish sticks with catsup or a FishMac than it is to be tuna.
Is it environmentally responsible to eat tuna?
According to HealthyTuna.com, the leading brands of canned and pouched tuna we see in U.S. grocery stores are “active leaders in global tuna sustainability efforts for all species of tuna.” They say that fish stocks for the two species predominantly used in canned and pouched tuna, skipjack and albacore (chunk light and white tuna on labels), are “healthy and well managed thanks in part to the active participation of the leading U.S. tuna brands in careful, science-based management of these fisheries.”
What’s more, marine scientists, tuna industry leaders and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) together have established the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), a “global partnership committed to the science-based conservation and management of tuna and the protection of our oceans.” Some sustainability principles include to only use legally caught and reported tuna, use new fishing techniques to reduce by-catch (catching and harming other sea life; sea turtles are a major concern) and “continued commitment not to catch or harm dolphins in the process of catching tuna.”
Sustainable tuna shopping tips:
On the other side, the global tuna business is worth $5.5 billion; and where there is Big Business, responsible industry practices—upheld even when no one is watching—often fall by the wayside. Green Living has some straightforward tuna-buying tips for concerned consumers:
- Buy sustainable tuna species, such as albacore, and avoid tuna that doesn’t have its species clearly labeled.
- Fish that is hook-and-line caught supports eco-friendly fishing practices. Only a small percentage of tuna is caught in this so-called “selective-harvesting manner” so it’s usually on the label.
- Shrink your family’s carbon footprint: Buy local Pacific Northwest fish if possible. Many canned tuna are from Thailand.
- The Ocean Wise logo, a program by the Vancouver Aquarium, attests commitment to serving sustainable, ocean-friendly seafood.
- Beware of dolphin-friendly labels. This is why buying tuna can be so confusing. Greenliving.com says “unfortunately, ‘dolphin-friendly’ does not mean you can trust the brand because there is no universal and independent verification.” The labeling can be deceptive, as some of the fishing methods still may be causing harm to dolphins and other sea life.
- Buy tuna in BPA-free cans for peace of mind.
- Green Living names BC-based Raincoast Trading, the first product to participate in the Ocean Wise program, as one good example for responsible, eco-friendly tuna.