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Good News for Tuna-Lovers!

(post, Sarah Price)

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I love fish.  All kinds of fish, really, but particularly sushi.  As with many people, the concept of raw meat made me a bit queasy at first, but my skepticism dissolved with my first slice of Albacore tuna, complimented with a sliver of pickled ginger and a dot of spicy sriracha sauce.  It was delicious.

To me, sushi is more than a meal.  It is an experience.  It is not complete without the chopsticks, soy sauce, wasabi and ginger, edamame, and a steaming cup of green tea. If you’re lucky, a good sushi chef will give you a few sweet orange slices after you’ve cleared your plate.  I love everything about the sushi experience: the silky texture of the fish, the sting in my nose when I use too much wasabi, and especially the way that I feel when I walk out of the restaurant—nourished.  Healthy.

Traditionally scientists backed up that feeling, touting the healthful components of fish.  They called fish an “anti-aging superfood”, an excellent source of protein and beneficial fats and oils.  But in recent years, we have been warned to keep this superfood to a minimum in our diets.  The oceans are full of dangerous metals, and some of them have made their way into the fish that we eat.  Mercury is the big one—all fish have some small trace of mercury in them, but predatory fish like tuna, shark and mackerel have especially high concentrations, so high in fact that we are advised to keep consumption of these fish to a minimum and pregnant or nursing women are not supposed to eat them at all.
I have taken care to block out all of the reports on the health risk of tuna.  I order Albacore every time I eat sushi, and I thoroughly (if blindly) enjoy it.  But I may be able to take the blindfold off, recent studies suggest.

Ironically, the reduced risk of mercury in fish has nothing to do with the fish at all.  They contain the same levels of mercury that they always have.  But if you take your sushi with green tea, as I do, your absorption of that mercury is cut in half.  Researchers at the Université de Montréal have studied the effects of tea and coffee on mercury exposure, and the results are exciting: when subjects consumed at least 1 cup of tea or coffee (250 mL) while eating fish such as tuna, shark and mackerel, their exposure to the dangerous compound was reduced by 50-60%.  Cooking the fish reduced mercury exposure by 50% as well, so that the subjects eating cooked tuna in conjunction with tea had virtually no exposure at all.

The research is young, but it is promising.  It is promising for all of the pregnant women of the world.  It is promising for all of the sushi-fiends, like me, who simply can’t get enough Albacore.  It is yet another reason to sing the praises of green tea  (as if we needed more reason to love tea).