Making Safe Choices
Grant Stevens is Louisiana born and bred, so it's no wonder that he loves seafood. The two-year-old's favorites include catfish, shrimp, and crab. "He eats seafood about once a week," says Cara Stevens of Baton Rouge. "He can probably out-eat an adult in catfish." Stevens started introducing fish and other seafood to Grant shortly after his first birthday
No matter where you live, seafood is easy to love. There's the rich variety of tastes and textures—from the mildness of shrimp to the strong, oily tang of salmon. Plus, seafood is a food that loves your body back. High in protein, loaded with vitamins and minerals, and low in unhealthy fats, fish also contains omega-3 fatty acids—nutrients which may contribute to a healthy heart and aid in brain development.
So why all the fuss about feeding fish to kids?
By and large, when parents and experts worry about the safety of seafood they are worrying about environmental contaminants. The most concerning of these is mercury, says Tim Fitzgerald, a scientist with Environmental Defense's Oceans Program.
Mercury is a toxic metal. Although some mercury occurs naturally in the environment, industrial pollution has caused mercury levels in the land, air, and water to skyrocket. Mercury builds up in the tissues of fish and other animals—creating potential health hazards for those who eat seafood. And while ingesting mercury is dangerous for everyone, it can be especially harmful to children. "Mercury is a neurotoxin, so it's most dangerous to nervous systems that are still developing," says Fitzgerald. In addition, kids' bodies are smaller and the lower your weight, the lower the levels of mercury that will have an effect on your body.
Mercury pollution moves up the food chain, collecting in larger, older species of fish as they feed on smaller fish. "Anything that gets really big, or has really big teeth, is a good candidate for being high in mercury," says Fitzgerald. When choosing fish for your family, avoid selecting large predators such as swordfish, tilefish, or shark.