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Safer Seafood Choices for Your Optimal Well-Being

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In pursuing a nutrient-dense diet, seafood stands out as a rich source of essential nutrients, particularly omega-3 fatty acids. However, contamination and industrial practices raise questions about our choices and how they can impact our long-term health. Today, you’ll discover seven toxic seafoods and their associated health risks… plus the healthy and delectable alternatives that you can safely enjoy.

By Kelley Herring

The Global Seafood Landscape

A staggering 90% of seafood consumed in the United States is imported, revealing the challenges associated with monitoring and ensuring the safety of these products.

In fact, a report by Food & Water Watch indicates that less than 2% of the 860,000 imported seafood shipments were visually inspected, and less than 1% were tested for contaminants.

The good news is that you can keep these toxins largely off your plate – and out of your body – with a little seafood selecting know-how.

Imported and farm-raised Catfish

Catfish, including varieties like Basa and Swai, constitute a significant portion of the market and are primarily sourced from Vietnam. Unfortunately, Vietnam’s loose regulations on the use of antibiotics and chemicals in fish farming raise concerns about the safety of these products.


While widely consumed, tilapia, has faced serious scrutiny due to concerns related to farming practices and potential health risks. Tilapia farming, especially in certain regions, has been associated with the use of antibiotics, pesticides, and suboptimal conditions. In addition, tilapia has been reported to have lower omega-3 fatty acid content compared to other fish varieties.

Safer Catch: Sablefish, or Black cod, is a delicious and sustainably sourced option for seafood enthusiasts. With a rich, buttery flavor and delicate texture, black cod has gained popularity in culinary circles for its versatility in various dishes. Sourced primarily from the Pacific, this fish is prized for its high omega-3 content and is often celebrated for its succulence when grilled or broiled. Unlike some overexploited species, black cod tends to be well-managed, contributing to a more environmentally conscious choice for conscientious consumers.

Black cod recipes


Eel, also known as unagi, is predominantly farmed in China. The use of toxic nitrofuran, a potent carcinogen, and other drugs and pesticides to control disease in eel pens has raised alarms about potential contamination with mercury and cancer-causing PCBs.

Safer Catch: A more sustainable and safer alternative to eel is squid. Known for its low contamination levels, high protein content, and ease of preparation, squid provides a clean and nutritious choice for seafood enthusiasts.

Atlantic Flatfish

Varieties like sole, flounder, and Atlantic halibut are high in contaminants and contribute to overfishing, placing a strain on ocean ecosystems.

Safer Catch: Swapping Atlantic halibut for Alaskan halibut. Besides being a delicious option, Pacific halibut aligns with environmentally friendly harvesting practices, promoting the sustainability of our oceans. Its robust texture makes it a great option for grilling.

Imported and farm-raised Shrimp

Considered one of the “dirtiest” seafood options, imported farmed shrimp often contain chemical residues, antibiotics, and various contaminants.

Safer Catch: While avoiding imported, farmed shrimp can reduce exposure to contaminants, it’s essential to note that 70% of domestic shrimp comes from the Gulf of Mexico, raising concerns after the recent oil spill. Choose wild-caught shrimp as a safer and more sustainable alternative.

Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

Atlantic bluefin tuna is known for having the highest levels of mercury and is nearing extinction. Even supposedly eco-friendly tuna varieties may not be as safe as perceived, as evidenced by a study conducted by Oceana.

Safer Catch: To enjoy the benefits of omega-3-rich fish without compromising on safety, swap tuna for smaller, equally flavorful alternatives like Atlantic mackerel and sardines.

Ensuring a Healthy Plate and Oceans

Being aware of the origins of our food is more important than ever. By enjoying a closer connection with our farmers and fishermen, we can take a big step toward ensuring our foods are as safe as they are delicious.

While the immediate health effects of contaminants may not be apparent, the long-term impact on human health is indisputable. And remember, protecting our health tomorrow begins with making informed choices today.

Here are a few of my favorite simple and delicious safe seafood recipes, perfect for the holiday or any day!

Seared Scallops with Lemon Garlic Butter Sauce


  • 12 large sea scallops, patted dry
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh parsley, chopped (for garnish)


  1. Ensure scallops are thoroughly dry using paper towels.
  2. Season both sides of the scallops with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  4. Add scallops to the pan, making sure not to overcrowd them. Sear for 1-2 minutes on each side until a golden crust forms.
  5. In the same pan, reduce heat to medium.
  6. Add minced garlic and sauté for 1 minute until fragrant.
  7. Stir in butter and lemon juice, allowing the butter to melt and create a luscious sauce.
  8. Plate the seared scallops, drizzling the lemon garlic butter sauce over the top.
  9. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley.
  10. Serve immediately.
wildcaught shrimp, pan roasted shrimp shrimp cocktail

Classic Shrimp Cocktail


  • 1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste
  • Ice water (for shrimp bath)
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons horseradish
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Hot sauce to taste (optional)


  1. In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Season with salt, pepper, bay leaves, and lemon slices.
  2. Add shrimp and cook for 3-4 minutes until they turn pink and opaque.
  3. Transfer shrimp to an ice water bath to stop the cooking process.
  4. In a bowl, combine ketchup, horseradish, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce if desired. Adjust flavors to your liking.
  5. Arrange the poached shrimp on a serving platter with a bowl of cocktail sauce in the center.
  6. Garnish with lemon wedges.
  7. Serve chilled and enjoy this classic shrimp cocktail.

Sardine Pâté with Herbs


  • 1 can (4.4 ounces) of sardines in olive oil, drained
  • 4 ounces organic cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste
  • Grain-free crackers or sliced baguette (for serving)


  1. In a bowl, mash the drained sardines with a fork until smooth.
  2. Add softened cream cheese, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, chopped parsley, and chives to the bowl with the sardines.
  3. Mix well until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.
  4. Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.
  6. Scoop the sardine pâté into a serving dish.
  7. Garnish with additional chopped herbs if desired.
  8. Serve with grain-free crackers or sliced baguette, and enjoy this flavorful and nutritious sardine pâté.

From the delicately seared scallops to the classic elegance of shrimp cocktail and the savory goodness of sardine pâté, these recipes offer a delightful array of flavors. Enjoy as standalone appetizers or combine them to create a stunningly healthy seafood feast for your next gathering.

vital choice wild caught seafood smoked salmon can pouch

For more helpful and delicious articles from Kelley and other trusted sources, make sure to check out our US Wellness Meats Discover Blog today!  

kelley herring

Kelley Herring

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  1. Ronald A. Hites, Jeffery A. Foran, David O. Carpenter, M. Coreen Hamilton, Barbara A. Knuth, Steven J. Schwager. Global Assessment of Organic Contaminants in Farmed Salmon. Science 9 January 2004: Vol. 303 no. 5655 pp. 226-229 DOI: 10.1126/science.1091447
  2. Environmental Defense Fund. Seafood Selector.
  3. PCBs in Farmed Salmon. Jane Houlihan. July 2003.
  4. Oceana Study Reveals Seafood Fraud Nationwide. February 21, 2013.
  5. New York Times. In China, Farming Fish in Toxic Waters. 12/15/2007.
  6. Import Alert: Government Fails Consumers, Falls Short on Seafood Inspections. Food and Water Watch. May 30th, 2007.
  7. New York Times. Bluefin tuna and an ocean of troubles. Published: Monday, February 4, 2008.
  8. Lymbery, P. CIWF Trust report, “In Too Deep – The Welfare of Intensively Farmed Fish” (2002).
  9. Miyazaki, W., Iwasaki, T., Takeshita, A. Polychlorinated Biphenyls Suppress Thyroid Hormone Receptor-mediated Transcription through a Novel Mechanism J. Biol. Chem. 2004 279: 18195-18202. First Published on February 25, 2004, doi:10.1074/jbc.M310531200.
  10. Schantz, SL., Widholm, JJ, and Rice, DC. 2003. Effects of PCB exposure on neuropsychological function in children. Environ Health Perspect 111 (3): 357-576.
  11. Tacon, A. G. J., & Metian, M. (2013). Fish matters: Importance of aquatic foods in human nutrition and global food supply. Reviews in Fisheries Science, 21(1), 22–38. doi:10.1080/10641262.2012.753405