Skip

Help me save a friend from killer tuna
January 12, 2009 2:28 PM   Subscribe

I just found out that my friend is eating seven tins of tuna fish a week. I'm concerned about the levels of mercury he may be ingesting. He says he'll consider cutting down on the tuna if I can suggest an alternative that's high in protein, low in fat, not in need of refrigeration, portable and cheap. Any ideas? Any convincing arguments that my concern is groundless?

This came about because he's asked me to do his online shopping for him, for reasons that are another story altogether. While I'm OK doing it, I'm not happy buying him enough tuna to poison himself with neurotoxins. I'm willing to consider evidence that this isn't in fact enough tuna to poison himself with neurotoxins.

Part of the problem seems to be that he is hearing about the risks at third hand - leading him to apportion them less weight - and isn't prepared to spend time investigating them himself. But he seems prepared to lower his consumption, if only to stop me from being so upset about it, so long as it doesn't have a significant impact on his lifestyle - bodybuilding (hence the high protein), dieting (hence the low fat) and not spending very much on food are all pretty central to him. I proposed nuts, for example, and he said they were too fatty and too dear. So: what's exactly like tuna, only safer?
posted by Acheman to Food & Drink (44 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Canned chicken
posted by bove at 2:35 PM on January 12, 2009


I didn't know this was a concern, but according to this, he shouldn't eat more than 1 can every 3 days. Wow.

I'm a big fan of canned chicken breast. At the local less-expensive grocery store, it's still not quite as cheap as tuna, but it's not as expensive as it is at the not-less-expensive grocery store--about $1.20 to $1.50 a can.
posted by darksasami at 2:40 PM on January 12, 2009


Wasn't the actor Jeremy Piven recently treated for mercury poisoning due to all the sushi he was eating?
posted by NoRelationToLea at 2:40 PM on January 12, 2009


I came here to write about canned chicken - only to see that bove has beaten me to it. There are all kinds of canned meats... canned salmon, canned chicken.... tuna is not the only canned meat option.

This page details several real canned meats that are available for purchase online.
posted by Brettus at 2:42 PM on January 12, 2009


Spam Lite?
posted by swift at 2:43 PM on January 12, 2009


Well, if you want hard numbers, this site [pbs.org] spells it out using US EPA guidelines.

Food wise, you could suggest canned lentils, chickpeas and other beans. If he rehydrates dry beans, he won't have to worry about the high salt levels in canned beans.
posted by Ctrl_Alt_ep at 2:45 PM on January 12, 2009


Canned salmon, for the following reasons:

1) It is cheap
2) It is low-fat
3) The type of salmon that winds up canned is always wild salmon, not farmed, so no worries about PCBs and whatnot like you have with farmed fish
4) It has beneficial fatty acids
5) It is among the least contaminated fishes
6) You can use it in many of the same ways that you use tuna
posted by HotToddy at 2:45 PM on January 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Would canned Salmon have the same problem as mercury? If not, the salmon would be a great choice (and tastier).
posted by chrisalbon at 2:46 PM on January 12, 2009




Click on the "Over the Limit" report on this page. Read the case studies at the end (Appendix A). A number of people who were diagnosed with mercury poisoning from doing just what your friend is doing -- eating lots of canned tuna fish.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 2:51 PM on January 12, 2009


Canned fish that is lower on the food chain is also lower in mercury, eg: sardines and smoked kippers.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:54 PM on January 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


On preview, what oneirodynia said.

Sardines and herring are high protein for certain, but they are fattier fish and usually packed in oil, so they might not pass the "low fat" requirement.

He really shouldn't be afraid of good fats like those found in nuts and fatty fish. They're great for your skin, moods and often help people lose weight since they help you feel satisfied.
posted by burntflowers at 2:58 PM on January 12, 2009


Seconding sardines, which you can eat all kinds of ways.
posted by arimathea at 3:08 PM on January 12, 2009


He ought to switch to sardines. That fat is good for you, especially if packed in olive oil. However, if he's gonna be eating tuna, the cheaper the canned tuna the less mercury there is in it. The more expensive tuna is from bigger fish. The bigger the fish, the more the mercury. Also, for a change, there's chopped clams, smoked oysters and kippered herring.
posted by Joe13 at 3:13 PM on January 12, 2009


Nthing sardines, which are delicious and also found packed in water. Also see: What are the tastiest ways to eat canned sardines?
posted by hooray at 3:19 PM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thirding Joe13 and arimathea on sardines. From the NYT: "Sardines: Dr. Bowden calls them “health food in a can.” They are high in omega-3’s, contain virtually no mercury and are loaded with calcium. They also contain iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese as well as a full complement of B vitamins. How to eat: Choose sardines packed in olive or sardine oil. Eat plain, mixed with salad, on toast, or mashed with dijon mustard and onions as a spread." It's from "The 11 Best Foods You Aren't Eating."
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:24 PM on January 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


> Wasn't the actor Jeremy Piven recently treated for mercury poisoning due to all the sushi he was eating?

I think people took that pronouncement with an FDA-guideline-violating-sized pinch of salt...
posted by AmbroseChapel at 3:24 PM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Beef jerky, although that's not exactly super-cheap. Lunch meat is ok without refrigeration for a day out, and can be had for very cheap on sale. Slices of rolled-up turkey or ham are a good protein snack. Ditto hard-boiled eggs (he can pop out the yolks if he doesn't want the fat).
posted by peachfuzz at 3:24 PM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think people took that pronouncement with an FDA-guideline-violating-sized pinch of salt...

You're questioning the diagnosis of this doctor?

So is everyone else.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:43 PM on January 12, 2009


Aside, don't take Piven's "poisoning" as any kind of data point. Rumor has it that it was mostly a trumped up affliction to get out of the play. As I think ambrosechapel is implying.

Lunch meat is ok without refrigeration for a day out

For you maybe, but if the package says "keep refrigerated", then the only correct advice is to do so.
posted by gjc at 3:48 PM on January 12, 2009


Jonny Bowden implies that light tuna (little bits of tuna) is very low in mercury when compared with tuna steaks/ albacore in The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. So seven cans of light tuna a week is probably fine, your friend will be okay.

Sardines are good, but they got those little bones that are kind of nasty when you're eating it directly from the can, same with herring. Also, they are generally twice the price of a can of light tuna.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 4:01 PM on January 12, 2009


Here is a 10 year study on children who ate fish twice a day and did not experience harmful effects. And also, another study showing that kids whose mothers ate less than the FDA/EPA recommended amount of fish "had lower verbal IQs, more problems with fine motor skills, and higher rates of behavioral and social difficulties, compared to youngsters whose mothers consumed more seafood during pregnancy."

The Japanese eat tons more fish than Americans and I don't believe they have an epidemic of mercury related health problems.
posted by ghostmanonsecond at 4:06 PM on January 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


From MeFi's own dansdata, two summaries of investigations about mercury levels in fish and why you shouldn't worry about them all that much.
posted by Phineas Rhyne at 4:35 PM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Smoked chicken.

Beef jerky.
posted by rodgerd at 4:44 PM on January 12, 2009


Baked beans
They require refrigeration, but eggs last quite a while, and a hardboiled egg or 2 is a pretty portable alternative.
posted by theora55 at 4:51 PM on January 12, 2009


nnthing sardines. The best way to eat them is with a fork, straight from the can, over the kitchen sink, with a look of tastiness-induced ecstasy on one's face.
posted by scruss at 4:55 PM on January 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Raw almonds
posted by mattoxic at 4:56 PM on January 12, 2009


I switched to canned salmon for exactly this reason (was eating it 4-5 times a week), and seriously, he'll barely even notice the change. You can do anything with salmon that you can do with tuna.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:00 PM on January 12, 2009


Ask him to listen to this and/or read this.
posted by longdaysjourney at 5:28 PM on January 12, 2009


Nthing sardines.

But for contrary, anecdotal evidence, my dad has eaten at least a can of tuna a day for the past 55 or so years, and exhibits none of the classic signs of mercury poisoning.
posted by charmcityblues at 6:18 PM on January 12, 2009


If he gets canned salmon remind him not to get the tall cans. Nothing good happens inside those things. However, the regular short canned salmon tastes pretty much like tuna to me.
posted by 517 at 6:32 PM on January 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Chickpeas.
posted by Kololo at 8:25 PM on January 12, 2009


Protein. Although the measuring, especially nuts/seeds by volume, was a little misleading... See here for a better idea.

Pumpkin Seeds - 29g of protein/100g
Fish Steak - 22g/100g or 3.5oz
Canned Tuna - 40g/6oz (or 170g)
I only do math if it does itself or I have to... but you can see what's happening here.

Sesame - 26.4/100g
Sunflower - 24/100g
Again, better than tuna! (How could he say no to that?)

Bodybuilders eat all kinds of plain nasty shit so don't be afraid to suggest eating a whole sack full of nuts and seeds every day. He'll do it. Get heaps of all different types and cook them into muffins and bread yum yum.

Tuna is alright :) It would be nice if people would just fuck right off and stop eating them though.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 8:47 PM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Get tested for $25 via Greenpeace & UNC

He can have everything he wants except the cheap. Tuna from Vitalchoice is sustainably fished and lower in mercury, not to mention much better tasting.
posted by spasm at 9:35 PM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Like spasm said: better tuna.
posted by hades at 9:48 PM on January 12, 2009


I'll second chickpeas.
posted by salvia at 12:49 AM on January 13, 2009


Maybe your friend should read this ARTICLE
posted by watercarrier at 2:24 AM on January 13, 2009


Like spasm said: better tuna.

Better, in this case, is actually worse. The higher the grade of tuna, the worse it is, mercury-wise.
posted by electroboy at 7:04 AM on January 13, 2009


Better, in this case, is actually worse. The higher the grade of tuna, the worse it is, mercury-wise.

No, in this context better doesn't mean from a bigger, fattier fish, as it would in the sushi world. Here, better means from the smaller, younger fish that are [accidentally] caught and which the major canneries don't want, because they cost more, per pound, to process. Because mercury accumulates throughout the life of the fish, the smaller ones have markedly less.
posted by spasm at 8:15 AM on January 13, 2009


True, but they're comparing young albacore to old albacore. Chunk light tuna has significantly less than albacore.
posted by electroboy at 10:03 AM on January 13, 2009


Is there no way tuna factories can test mercury levels in a tuna fish before sending it along for canning?
posted by vsync at 11:09 AM on January 13, 2009


they're comparing young albacore to old albacore

Well, yes.
I realize this is subjective, and many people disagree, but I regard
light tuna as cat food. People with working taste buds assume albacore. Otherwise, a world of possibilities opens up. There are many quite nasty ocean critters which are quite healthy, lower on the food/mercury chain.
posted by spasm at 11:50 AM on January 13, 2009


I'm really sorry, but I'm from England, where we don't have this 'albacore' you speak of. What does the distinction correspond to in terms of British tuna fish tins? Tuna steaks versus tuna chunks? Tuna chunks versus tuna flakes? Does anyone have any information about the mercury levels in the tinned tuna that is sold in UK supermarkets?

Thanks for the suggestions, though, everyone. I may print this out and show it to him. I think tinned salmon will be too expensive, though, at about £1.50 per tin. And I know he shouldn't be thinking in terms of fat=bad, but the diet is of his designing, not mine, and he doesn't seem to be open for convincing on that front.
posted by Acheman at 12:33 PM on January 13, 2009


I realize this is subjective, and many people disagree, but I regard light tuna as cat food. People with working taste buds assume albacore.

*rolls eyes*

Right, but the question was-- Protein source: cheap, low fat, less mercury.

Tuna steaks versus tuna chunks? Tuna chunks versus tuna flakes?

Flakes, cheap as you can get it. The cheaper it is, the less mercury. White chicken meat and egg whites are the only other things that satisfy all the conditions.
posted by electroboy at 1:19 PM on January 13, 2009


« Older I'm accustomed to watching DVD...   |  How do I get my Xbox 360 to st... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.


Post