New studies give conflicting advice about the benefits and risks of eating fish

Two studies released yesterday are likely to confuse you even further about the benefits and risks of eating fish. A report from the Harvard School of Public Health claims that fish consumption can reduce the risk of coronary death by 36 percent, and total mortality by 17 percent — benefits that far outweigh the risk of exposure to toxins like PCBs and dioxin, it says. “Seafood is likely the single most important food one can consume for good health,” says coauthor Dariush Mozaffarian. But a study by the Institute of Medicine concludes that while chowing down on salmon, mackerel, and other fatty fish “may” reduce the risk of heart disease, different populations should follow different fish-eating guidelines, and women of childbearing age and children should be particularly cautious. Consumers Union criticized both studies for not giving enough attention to the dangers of mercury in tuna and PCBs in most fish. Nutrition expert Marion Nestle of New York University recommends that consumers make sense of the morass by following advice from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Environmental Defense about fish choices that are safe for people and ecosystems.