Eating fish in Spain: which are the safest due to their low mercury concentration?

by Lorraine Williamson
mercury in fish
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MADRID – The research institute CSIC has analysed the concentration of mercury in 58 species of fish and crustaceans for human consumption for sale in local markets in Spain, Italy and France. Which types are safe to eat in terms of mercury levels? 

Fish is regularly on the menu in Spain. Especially if you live or stay somewhere on the coast. Almost every restaurant has an extensive selection of fish, shellfish and crustaceans on the menu. Although fish nowadays has a healthier image than meat, high concentrations of heavy metals in various species can negate these health effects. 

Species with lower mercury content 

A team from the Institute for Environmental Diagnosis and Water Studies (IDAEA) of the Superior Council of Scientific Research (CSIC) has analysed the concentration of mercury in 58 species of fish and shellfish for human consumption. Of all the specimens, 13 species had mercury concentrations lower than those recommended by the European Union (EU) as safe. Among them are sardines, anchovies, sea bream, squid, blue whiting, caramel, gallant, red mullet, serrano, corvallo, salpa and mahi-mahi. 

“Consuming these species minimises our intake of mercury, which is the price we pay when eating fish. Furthermore, these fish have a good amount of unsaturated fatty acids, which are more beneficial from a nutritional point of view,” said Joan O. Grimalt, researcher and lead author of the study, Joan O. Grimalt. 

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What effects does mercury have? 

Mercury is a toxic element that damages the kidneys, lungs, and cardiovascular and nervous systems. Moreover, it is especially harmful for children and pregnant women. Its physicochemical properties allow it to be transported over long distances and deposited in aquatic ecosystems. Here, it is taken up by fish and other organisms. Most of the mercury absorbed by the human population comes from the consumption of fish and shellfish. 

The study 

The study, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, focuses on more than 1,300 specimens of 58 species of fish and shellfish for human consumption that was for sale in markets in Spain (Menorca, Mallorca, Ibiza, Alicante, Ametlla de Mar and L’Ampolla ), Italy (Genoa, Civitavecchia, Alghero) and France (Marseille). 

“According to these results, health authorities should pay special attention to fish and shellfish species with the highest mercury content and make appropriate preventive health recommendations, especially for children and pregnant women,” Grimalt concluded. The species with the highest concentration of mercury are red tuna, shark and pike. 

Also read: Beware of misleading marketing about the Mediterranean diet

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