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A Little Known Risk of Eating Anchovies

Anchovies have a variety of health benefits, but eating them also increases your risk of illness. Find out why as well as how to lower your risk.

Do you enjoy anchovies in your Greek salad? If so, you’ll want to be aware of a potential health risk associated with indulging in these salty, little fish. A new study shows that eating anchovies from certain parts of the Mediterranean could put you at higher risk of developing a parasitic infection.

Eating Anchovies and the Risk of Parasitic Infection

According to a published in International Journal of Food Microbiology, anchovies from the Mediterranean North West coast and the Atlantic South East coast can harbor a parasite known as Anisakis. Researchers analyzed almost eight hundred anchovies from fish markets in Granada and found the risk of developing an infection with the Anisakis parasite was high in anchovies caught from particular areas of the Mediterranean. Anchovies from certain regions carried a higher risk than others; but the bottom line is eating anchovies from any of these areas could increase the risk of getting a nasty parasitic infection.

How Does the Parasite Cause Infection?

When anchovies infected with the Anisakis parasite are eaten, the tiny larvae are absorbed by the stomach and intestines and symptoms begin within a few hours. People infected with the parasite can experience vomiting and severe abdominal pain. Some people also experience diarrhea if the parasites passes into the bowel. Symptoms can also develop from eating raw fish that harbor the parasite such as fish served at sushi bars. Usually no treatment is given since the parasite can’t survive for long periods of time in the human body. The goal is to treat the symptoms and prevent dehydration.

The Health Benefits of Anchovies

Although the prospect of eating anchovies infected with the Anisakis parasite and getting ill isn’t a pleasant one, the benefits of anchovies make them a compelling food choice. They’re high in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, niacin, and selenium and are very low in calories. Because they’re small fish that are low on the food chain, they’re unlikely to harbor high levels of mercury, PCB’s, dioxanes, or other contaminants.

Get the Health Benefits of Anchovies Without the Risk

If you want the health benefits of anchovies, but don’t want to risk being infected with the Anisakis parasite, what can you do? The researcher team at the University of Granada says that you can either freeze the anchovies or cook them before serving to kill the parasite. Keep in mind that the risk of parasitic infection extends to eating raw fish of any type. Freshwater fish are especially likely to harbor parasites and should never be used to make sushi. To avoid problems with eating anchovies or other fish, experts recommend thoroughly cooking the fish. Many sushi bars avoid this problem by smoking the fish or salting it heavily to kill the parasites.

The Bottom Line?

If you enjoy eating anchovies, freeze or cook them first to reduce your risk of parasitic infection.

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