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anses

French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety

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Updated on 04/08/2016

Eat Fish: Why? How?

The Agency’s recommendations for eating fish

Keywords : Nutrition, Fish, Pregnant women, Omega-3 fatty acid

Fish has valuable nutritional qualities that make it an excellent choice for meals for the whole family. This article gives a summary of the nutrients it provides, as well as the Agency’s recommendations for consumption in order to make the most of its nutritional benefits.

Fish is an excellent source of protein, just as much as red meat. It also has fat in varying quantities depending on the species, which are sources of omega 3s. Among oily fish, some contain more long chain omega-3s and are therefore particularly interesting for nutrition. The omega 3s called "long chain" (EPA or eicosapentaenoic acid and DHA or docosahexaenoic acid) are the ones that prevent cardiovascular disease and are necessary for the development and functioning of the retina, the brain and the nervous system

Total fat content Long-chain omega 3 content (EPA and DHA) Fish species  (1)
Fatty fish (>2 %)

High (3g/100g)

Salmon, Sardines, Mackerel, Herring, Smoked trout

 Medium (1.4g/100g)

Red mullet, Anchovies, Pilchard, Sea bass, Trout, Seat bream, Turbot, Smelt, Pike, Halibut.
Lean fish (<2 %)

Low (0.3g/100g)

Tuna (canned), Pollock, Cod, Whiting, Sole, Ling, Ray, Hake, Monkfish, Plaice, Dab

Fish also provide minerals such as phosphorus and trace elements such as iodine, zinc, copper, selenium and fluorine, but also vitamins A, D, E and some of the B group, all of which are essential for health.

However, fish may also be contaminated by environmental pollutants such as dioxins, PCBs and methylmercury, environmental contaminants that may have adverse effects on health in the event of overexposure. PCBs and dioxins are found primarily in the oiliest fish (eel) as well as in some fish that tend to bioaccumulate  toxins (eel, barbel, bream, carp, catfish), while methylmercury is found in wild predatory fish.

The Agency’s Recommendations

To ensure all the benefits from eating fish and meet people’s needs for long chain omega-3s while minimising the risk of overexposure to contaminants, ANSES recommends eating fish twice a week, including one portion of fish high in omega-3s, and one lean fish.

Consumers should also vary both the species of fish and its source, and limit their consumption of PCB bioaccumulating fish (eel, barbel, bream, carp, catfish) to two portions per month for the general population. Specific recommendations exist for the most sensitive populations (pregnant and breastfeeding women, young and adolescent girls, women of childbearing age, and children under 3).

These recommendations apply to adults and children over 10. For children 3-10, their servings of fish rich in omega-3s can come from red mullet, anchovies, or sardines.

(1) Other species may be added to these categories. Those listed in this table correspond to the species most consumed by the French (INCA2 study data) and for which the Agency had all the data necessary for the evaluation (total lipid content, long chain omega-3 composition, contamination by dioxins, PCBs and methylmercury)