What I Learned by Participating in EWG’s Mercury in Seafood Study

After a year of trying to conceive a child, several months of infertility treatment and finally a miscarriage, I felt completely out of control over my own body. I learned about EWG and began researching what chemicals I was being exposed to and how I could limit my exposure.

One day, as I waded through my friend’s food pictures, baby photos and political statements, I came across a post on EWG’s Facebook page asking if I ate lots of tuna (yes), sushi (yum) and shellfish (all the time). A few weeks later, I asked my husband to cut a sample of my hair for testing through EWG’s Mercury in Seafood study.

When the results came back, I learned something incredibly valuable: eating all that fish had led to a higher mercury level than was recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency, and higher still than recent studies have suggested. You can read the full report here.

It was an eye opener, and more than a little scary. I learned that mercury exposure is most serious for those who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant – precisely what I was trying so hard to do.

Mercury affects brain development, memory and verbal skills in children exposed before birth. It all seemed like a high risk to take just because I liked eating fish.

In my defense, I had always believed seafood – in addition to being delicious – was actually good for me. But here’s the truth and the big takeaway for me from this study: All seafood is not created equal. 

There are plenty of fish in the sea, and when it comes to selecting which to eat, you have to be careful. The good news is that along with mercury, some seafood also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are really good for you.

The trick is to strike a balance between the two: low mercury, high omega-3s.

Luckily, EWG took all the guesswork out for study participants and provided a handy chart that categorized seafood in five easy-to-understand categories.

The chart was small enough to fold up and carry in my wallet, which is exactly what I did. From then on, if I was deciding between salmon (a “best bet”) or tuna (in the “avoid” category), the choice was easy. 

But it’s not just about the type of seafood I was eating, but also the amount.

According to EWG, the best solution is one or two servings of seafood a week. Before getting my results I never thought twice about ordering seafood while dining out. I started taking note of how much seafood I ate each week, and once I hit the limit, I knew it was time to find something else on the menu. 

By participating in the study, I felt so much more informed, and as coworkers and friends saw me consulting the chart at restaurants, they were interested too. Some even made copies or took photos. Turns out I wasn’t the only one who didn’t really know the truth about seafood.  

I still love eating fish. I continue to make it a part of my diet, but my choices are much more informed. I cut out all high-mercury fish (I’ll miss you, tuna) and began limiting my consumption of all but the “best bets” and “good choices.” 

I am so thankful that I parted ways with that little bit of hair to participate in the study. I learned what I needed to know to make myself healthier, both for my own well-being, and for the well-being of the child I learned I was carrying exactly two months after getting my results. Nice timing, EWG.

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