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If shellfish are bottom feeders and contain toxic chemicals, why do you include them among the World's Healthiest Foods?

In The World's Healthiest Foods book and WHFoods website, we have tried to limit the analysis of foods and food benefits to factors that have been documented in peer-reviewed, Western science research studies. I don't believe that's the only way to evaluate food, but it's the approach we were most comfortable with in constructing the list of the World's Healthiest Foods. When we looked at the published research on shellfish, we came to the conclusions that are presented in the book and on the website.

I'm especially concerned at the present time about the potential toxic residues found in virtually all fish and shellfish. But from a Western science research standpoint, there are also some well-documented benefits from shellfish. For example, the mineral selenium — so often deficient in the diet of American adults — is provided by shrimp in a concentration difficult to obtain from many other foods.

One type of shellfish that raises special concerns for me is shrimp. As of 2003, almost 90% of all shrimp consumed in the United States were imported from Asia and Latin America, with China, Vietnam, and Thailand serving as the three top suppliers. These shrimp imports totaled about 1.5 billion pounds! U.S. shrimp farms produce approximately 12 million pounds of shrimp each year, but that amount is less than 1% of the total shrimp imports. This huge imbalance between imported and domestically produced shrimp can be problematic due to problems with contamination in certain Asian fish farming operations and also with lack of sustainable practices on the part of many fish farming operations.

One website I like for identifying high-quality shrimp retailers and shrimp-serving restaurants is the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. You can use their Seafood Guides and Visit our Restaurant Partners links to locate high-quality fish in the U.S., including shrimp and other commonly eaten shellfish. When it comes to purchasing shellfish — and all types of fish well — I also encourage you to ask your grocers, or fishmongers, or whoever is responsible for providing your fish, as many questions as necessary to get an idea about its overall quality and sustainability.

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