Doctor’s Tip: Surprise — fish isn’t good for you either
People are often surprised when they are told that if they want optimal health they should avoid fish. It’s true that some of the longest-lived populations in the world such as the Japanese (at least before they started eating a more Western diet) eat some fish, but their diet is primarily plant-based. Here are some of the problems associated with eating fish:
• Studies such as the China Study showed that people who ate animal protein (fish is considered an animal protein) had the chronic diseases that are prevalent in Western societies such as ours: obesity; hypertension; high cholesterol; diabetes and prediabetes; heart attacks and strokes; inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis; autoimmune diseases such as MS; dementia including Alzheimer’s; and many forms of cancer. The Chinese who were too poor to afford to eat animal protein didn’t have these afflictions.
• While fish has less disease-causing saturated fat than meat, it does have some. Fish has as much harmful cholesterol as meat does, and shellfish such as lobster and crab have more.
• As with meat, when fish is cooked at high temperature such as grilling, carcinogens called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) form, which adversely affect the fetus and increase cancer in adults.
• While a plant-based diet is alkaline and anti-inflammatory, fish causes inflammation. Also, fish carries more of an acid load than meat, which increases the incidence of kidney stones.
• Eating fish increases the level of arachidonic acid, which according to Dr. Greger (“How Not to Die,” nutritionfacts.org) inflames the nervous system and increases the incidence of depression.
• Unfortunately, our oceans are becoming polluted, and fish concentrate arsenic, heavy metals such as mercury, PCBs, dioxin and other pollutants in their flesh. When you eat fish, these toxins are stored in your fat, and even if you quit eating fish and lose weight it takes anywhere from 1 to 100 years for your body to get rid of these pollutants, depending on which ones are present. Salmon is one of the worst offenders, wild less than farmed, but both are problematic.
• The above pollutants can cause birth defects, increase cancer risk and increase the incidence of diabetes.
• We are running out of fish in our oceans, and for every pound of fish we eat, four pounds are wasted as “bycatch.” Seals, dolphins and whales are other victims of bycatch.
• Raw fish (sushi, sashimi, ceviche) can transmit viral infections to humans such as hepatitis A; bacterial infections such as dysentery; parasitic diseases such as fish worm; and illness caused by endotoxins that are produced by certain bacteria.
• And then there’s food fraud. A New York Times investigation in 2005 revealed that six of eight stores in New York City were selling farm-raised salmon as “wild.” A 2013 investigation found that one-third of 1,200 samples of fish sold in 671 stores across the U.S. were mislabeled in order to charge a higher price or fool customers into believing they were buying a less endangered or less contaminated species of fish. Red food dye, which has its own set of health issues, is often added to salmon to improve its appearance, or to other fish to make it look like salmon.
Is it the end of the world if you cheat occasionally? Probably not, and I tell patients that if they are going to cheat occasionally, fish is one of the least unhealthy ways to cheat (versus meat, dairy, eggs, salt, sugar). Three years ago my wife and I spent a month in Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, for the Sapporo Worldloppet Nordic ski race. We decided to eat fish and lived to tell about it. But if you want optimal health for yourself and the planet, eat at the bottom of the food chain (i.e. plants) and avoid products from anything with a mother, a face or that poops. Unfortunately that includes seafood.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, now has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and any other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at email@example.com.