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Ask Dr. Gourmet

Do the benefits of eating fish and shellfish outweigh the risks?

You talk about the Mediterranean Diet all the time and how good fish is for you over beef and chicken. My question is, are you sure it ends up being better for you when it seems like every kind of fish, shrimp, crab is either polluted with mercury and other toxins or oil from the Gulf now. Do the benefits outweigh the possible detrimental effects?

Dr. Gourmet Says...


This is a great question and there are certainly concerns about the amount of mercury and other pollutants found in fish. This does vary by the type of fish and the best research we have indicates that the benefit of having fish as part of your diet far outweighs the risk. Drs. Mozaffarian and Rimm addressed this topic with research reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (2006;296:1885-1898). Here's an article I wrote about that: Dr. Tim Says... One fish, Two fish, Mercury in Your Fish

As far as fish from the Gulf of Mexico, everything that I have read indicates that the fish that is being caught is safe. I live here in New Orleans and you can imagine that this is MAJOR topic of conversation for us here. There are large sections of the Gulf that remain closed to fishing. Here's the map and info from the NOAA Fisheries Service:

This has been a huge tragedy and there is widespread devastation of the ecosphere here. Tens of thousands of animals will die because of British Petroleum's and their sub-contractors' actions.

It does appear that what is being fished and brought ashore is safe. I am not an expert, but what I read gives me some confidence, and I ate local, fresh Gulf drum just this week. I also bought shrimp last Saturday at the Farmer's Market in Downtown New Orleans (man it was tasty). Here are some good recent articles that interview folks who are experts:

Thanks for writing,

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS
Dr. Gourmet