Choosing Smarter Seafood with Randy Hartnell of Vital Choice

Podcast Episode #358: Choosing Smarter Seafood with Randy Hartnell of Vital Choice

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Choosing Smarter Seafood with Randy Hartnell of Vital ChoiceTopics

  1. News and updates from Liz [1:52]
  2. Introducing our guest, Randy Hartnell from Vital Choice [3:21]
  3. Environmental impact with seafood shopping [8:47]
  4. Farmed versus well-managed fisheries [13:48]
  5. B corporation status and what it means [21:58]
  6. Farmed fish and seafood [30:27]
  7. Perfectionism around buying seafood [34:21]
  8. Farmed Atlantic salmon [40:28]
  9. Palatability and affordability [42:33]
  10. Environmental impact on seafood [51:28]
  11. Randy's favorite subject to speak about [1:00:44]
  12. Rapid fire questions [1:02:59]

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Choosing Smarter Seafood with Randy Hartnell of Vital Choice Choosing Smarter Seafood with Randy Hartnell of Vital Choice Choosing Smarter Seafood with Randy Hartnell of Vital Choice Choosing Smarter Seafood with Randy Hartnell of Vital Choice

You’re listening to the Balanced Bites podcast episode 358.

Liz Wolfe: Welcome to the Balanced Bites podcast. I’m Liz; a nutritional therapy practitioner, and author of the Wall Street Journal bestseller Eat the Yolks; The Purely Primal Skincare Guide; and the online program Baby Making and Beyond. I live on a lake in the mystical land of the Midwest, outside of Kansas City.

I’m the co-creator of the Balanced Bites Master Class, with my podcast partner in crime, Diane. And we’ve been bringing you this award-winning podcast for more than 6 years. We’re here to share our take on modern healthy living, answer your questions, and chat with leading health and wellness experts. Enjoy this week’s episode, and submit your questions at or watch the Balanced Bites podcast Instagram account for our weekly calls for questions. You can ask us anything in the comments.

Remember our disclaimer: The materials and content within this podcast are intended as general information only, and are not to be considered a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Before we get started, let’s hear from one of our sponsors.

Liz Wolfe: Today’s podcast is sponsored by Vital Choice wild seafood and organics. America’s leading purveyor of premium sustainable seafood and grass-fed meats, and a certified B corporation. Now’s the time to grill some sparkling wild seafood and mouthwatering grass-fed meats. Their selection includes wild salmon, fish and shellfish, grass-fed beef and bison. Plus, premium pastured chicken and pork. Vital Choice offers fabulous foods for work or outdoor adventures. Luscious, fresh tasting canned salmon, sardines, or tuna. Wild salmon or bison jerky, and more. Be sure to save 15% on one regular order with the promo code BBPODCAST, or get $15 off your first Vital Box with the promo code BBVITALBOX from now through the end of the year.

1. News and updates from Liz [1:52]

Liz Wolfe: Hey friends! Just a few updates today, because we are going to get started with an interview with the wonderful Randy from Vital Choice; our sponsor. A company that we absolutely love and are so honored to have support this podcast and the work that we do. So we’ll get to that in short order.

I just wanted to update folks. First of all, what’s going on with me is I am chugging along on Baby Making and Beyond. I had a great meeting with Meg the midwife last week, and we set a ton of dates and did some scheduling out for when we are going to bring the beta testers on board, to make sure that we have a nice, cohesive, helpful program that is going to really help moms, babies, families thrive.

So keep an eye out for that. We’ll probably close the email list to betas in relatively short order. Within the next couple of weeks. So once you’ve listened to this podcast, or before you listen to the podcast, go to and just pop your email in there to be on the email list. So you can be notified of your chance to be a beta tester, to get into the program, be one of the early testers before we release it to the world. So I’m really excited about the progress that we’re making. And it really looks like it’s going to be a reality in relatively short order. So keep your eye out for that, and get on the list for that.

With that said, let’s get started with our interview with Randy.

2. Introducing our guest, Randy Hartnell from Vital Choice [3:21]

Liz Wolfe: Today I have Randy from Vital Choice on the show. He is, of course, one of our much appreciated sponsors and a friend of the show. And he is an expert in all things seafood. I’m really excited to chat with him today about the environmental toxins in our seafood. How to watch out for that. And answer a bunch of questions that came in from our listeners about seafood.

Folks know that we encourage folks to eat wild-caught fish. We love Vital Choice, as folks know. But we want to get a little bit more inside information. Some of the wisdom that Randy has from his many years of experience in the industry. So we’re going to learn a lot from Randy today. I’m really excited to have him here.

I’ll give you a quick background. Randy Hartnell is the president of Vital Choice Wild Seafood and Organics. Folks will remember that name from our sponsorships here on the show. It’s the leading online seafood company he and his wife Carla founded in 2001. He is responsible for guiding the company on it’s mission of helping consumers source high-quality, sustainable seafood while educating them about the impact of food choices on their health, the environment, and the commercial fishing community.

Randy is the public face of Vital Choice, fostering relationships with environmentally minded, health-conscious consumers, and nutrition-oriented health and wellness advocates. Prior to founding Vital Choice, Randy spent more than 20 years as a commercial salmon fisherman in Alaska. He’s a Washington state native, and holds a degree in English literature; hey, just like me! From the UC Berkeley. It makes us good communicators, I think.

Randy Hartnell: I hope so.

Liz Wolfe: I hope so too. Randy was on the show back in 2015, so if you want to hear even more after you have listened to this podcast, make sure you check out episode 192, as well. So excited to have you on. Thank you so much for being here, Randy.

Randy Hartnell: Thanks, Liz. It’s really a pleasure to be back.

Liz Wolfe: One of my favorite things to do is bring experts on and ask them all of my questions. What’s better than just having an expert at your disposal to ask every question you could possibly have about seafood? I think this is going to be great.

But first, we’re going to have a little bit of fun. And you and I, Randy, we’re going to share with our audience something new that we are digging. I will share first. What I’m digging is meals on repeat. So what I’ve been doing lately is brown rice with tons of roasted veggies. Roasted cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, asparagus, zucchini, sweet potato. Whatever we’ve got, topped with some chipotle mayo and the protein of my choice. So recently I have added a delicious salmon filet, from Vital Choice, of course, on top of all of this. Sometimes I’ll add avocado. Sometimes some pickled onions. But when I find something good, I try not to mess with it. So that’s what I’ve been digging lately.

Randy, what’s something you're digging currently? It could be nutrition or lifestyle focused. It could be a book. An app. Anything goes.

Randy Hartnell: Well, that’s interesting you should ask. Just this week I pre-launched my first book on Amazon. It’s called the Seafood Prescription: How you can live a happier, healthier, longer life with nature’s perfect food. And it’s really exciting. I’ve wanted to write a book for a long time, and share all the information and facts and myths and whatnot I’ve learned about seafood in my close to 40 years in the industry now. So I’m really digging that.

Liz Wolfe: Wow, I’m really excited about that. And that’s very much needed in the community. We have a lot of books about; what did you call it? Terrestrial food? {laughs}

Randy Hartnell: That’s so true.

Liz Wolfe: Not enough on seafood. So this will be amazing.

Randy Hartnell: Yeah. I’m looking forward to addressing your community’s questions. I get a lot of them all the time, and I thought; maybe I should just write a book and put all this information in one place that people can refer to and share. So I'm excited about the opportunity to do that.

Liz Wolfe: I cannot imagine how many questions you must get on a daily basis when you're traveling to conventions and via email. Because I feel like this is still a misunderstood topic. I just ran into somebody the other day who was talking about how they choose farmed tilapia very intentionally, and they felt it was a health choice. And I thought; gosh. We have a lot of work to do, if people are still thinking farmed tilapia is the healthiest choice with seafood. Would you agree?

Randy Hartnell: Absolutely. And that’s very common. I get lots of questions, but almost all of them fall into four or five different categories. And one we’re going to be discussing today is right hear the top. It’s troublesome to me. You're so right; seafood is maybe one of most misunderstood foods. And it’s important to clarify the misunderstandings and the myths and whatnot. Because potentially, it is so healthy. It’s so good for us. And we’re so; most Americans, or most people eating a western diet are so lacking in these essential nutrients that we can really only get from seafood.

3. Environmental impact with seafood shopping [8:47]

Liz Wolfe: And that’s really, really interesting to me. And I wanted to ask you; this is kind of a personal question, just straight from my brain. Do you feel like we have some really unique challenges, nowadays, just based on environmental issues, and what’s going on with, I don’t know. Climate change. Not trying to say it’s controversial. But I know that fluctuations in climate can kind of change. How these types of things work. How we harvest our food. Do you feel like people really have to be informed consumers of seafood? Whereas at this point I just kind of tell people, “Go to the store and get some grass-fed beef and you should be ok.” Do we have a unique challenge with seafood?

Randy Hartnell: I think so. There’s no question what we’re doing to the planet is impacting the ocean chemistry. The acidification is real. I live in the Pacific Northwest, and we have oyster farms out here. And for a few years now, the oyster farmers have been having trouble getting their small oysters to survive. Because occasionally the acidification will rise. And that has a potentially devastating impact on the ocean food chain. The very foundation of the food chain are the zooplankton, copepods, things that form the basis of the food chain for salmon and pretty much everything else that’s swimming around out there. And those are very vulnerable to the pH levels in the ocean.

So part of my mission. And when I say the seafood prescription, it’s not only a prescription for our own health. But I feel like by educating people about how vitally important seafood and the nutrients in seafood are, they’ll appreciate the oceans a little more and take more interest in them. Right now, there could be more interest in taking measures to protect our ocean. And I think if people realize what’s at stake, hopefully they’ll become more active. Trying to preserve it.

Liz Wolfe: Absolutely. One of the questions that has been swirling in my brain when I compare the way we look at agriculture on land versus the way we look at; I guess you would just have to say stewardship of the oceans is that we talk about farmers and how to use the land and regenerative agriculture. How you grow grass, and where you graze your animals, and things like that. But with the ocean, we don’t really have the luxury of compartmentalizing it that way. So we really have to look at it in a much more; I don’t know. It seems like to me, and I don’t know much about this topic. But a more dynamic way. It’s almost like this wild card with this vast ocean. Gosh you really kind of have to call in an expert, like Randy, to be able to understand this.

How do you conceptualize the differences between how we look at getting food from the ocean and how we look at getting healthy food on land?

Randy Hartnell: That’s really a great question Liz. One of the most amazing things about seafood is it’s for the most part what we call zero input food. Fish swim around; take wild salmon for example. They spend anywhere from two to four years swimming around out in the ocean, and they don’t require any land, or fresh water, or veterinary drugs. Other chemicals; fertilizers. All they require is that we just take care of their habitat.

So by choosing a particular species that comes from fisheries that are well managed and sustainable, in the truest sense of the word. Another problem with land-based foods, take your organic, humane, grass-fed beef. That is definitely preferable to the feed lot alternatives. But it still takes a lot of water, and a lot of feed, and a lot of labor. There’s a huge amount of CO2 emissions that accompany all feed-lot type animals. And seafood there’s virtually no CO2 emissions. Other than maybe the fishing boats that are out catching them.

There are just a lot of advantages to seafood. Especially if you focus on; consumers are aware of and seek out fish from well-managed fisheries. And the number of those is increasing over the last 10 years. We can talk about that later if you’d like.

4. Farmed versus well-managed fisheries [13:48]

Liz Wolfe: OK. Well let’s talk a little bit about fisheries now. Because I think it’s important that we articulate the difference between well-managed fisheries, and farmed fish. Like I was talking about earlier; farmed tilapia. Can you help articulate the difference in what we’re talking about?

Randy Hartnell: I’d be happy to do that. The best example is when I was a fisherman for 20 years in Alaska, I learned a lot about it. I was intimately involved with the ways that the fisheries were managed up there.

Basically, a fishery is just a geographic location that a particular species of fish are being targeted. And when I say managed fisheries, then we have, in Alaska’s case, we have scientists, usually biologists, that are responsible for the health of a particular fishery. So in my place, it was a Bristol Bay Sockeye salmon fishery.

Each year, millions of fish would come back out of the ocean and head in for the rivers they were born in. And over the years, since statehood in 1959, Alaska has been managing fisheries that way. And over that 50-60 years, they have determined what is an optimal number of fish to escape and get out and populate the spawning grounds. So there is only so much spawning habitat in each river.

So for instance, the river that I fished in, the biologists decided they needed 2 million spawners to get up into that river. In fact, more would be detrimental. Because then you have; like one year there was a strike, and millions more fish were headed up the river. And that’s not a good thing.

Anyway, the fishery managers basically have a green flag and a checkered flag. When they were confident they’re getting the number of fish they need for their spawning, then they will wave the green flag, and the fisherman will go fishing. Usually they’ll want to take some fish out of different parts of the run. So they’ll give you these openings; 6-hour openings, 12-hour openings, until they’ve got their 2 million fish. Then they’ll say, “Wide open. You guys can go catch the rest.”

Some years; one year that I was up there, 20 million fish came back to that river. They only needed 2 million. So it’s really; they're managed on what they call a sustainable yield. Basically they take the surplus over what they need for the spawning to sustain that particular run. And you can apply that to all of the fisheries in Alaska. Even the halibut that are not going up rivers. But they do stock assessments, and they evaluate the total biomass of the halibut. And they give the fishermen X percent; say 10 to 20 percent to catch.

And they’ve been doing this now for over 50 years, and it’s a model for the world. It’s one of the most successful fisheries management programs in the world. So people can really feel good about sourcing Alaskan seafood, because they know it’s not being overharvested. We’ve got scientists making the decisions as to what is caught and what isn’t. And that hasn’t been the case historically. It’s been more political. Still in many countries around the world. It’s more political. It’s who is getting paid off. But there’s more and more pressure for fisheries around the world to be managed sustainably. And I can expand upon that if you like.

Liz Wolfe: Yeah! What else do you have to say about that? You don’t need to cut yourself short at all. I’m fascinated.

Randy Hartnell: Well, for instance I had the pleasure of meeting a fellow who happens to be in charge of all the fisheries in Africa.

Liz Wolfe: Wow!

Randy Hartnell: Which was sort of jaw dropping. You can imagine how many thousands of miles of coastline and fisheries, and how many people count on the fisheries for survival. You don’t really want to hear about scientists, or who thinks they should eat or not. So it’s a huge challenge. And there’s a lot of corruption.

What happens is wealthier nations; China, some European nations come in and pay off the local government for access to the fisheries. And as a result, a lot of people are not able to sustain themselves. A lot of people; a lot of the high seas pirating that a lot of people have heard about. Part of the reason for that is these people have had to go further and further off shore to try to find fish that they’ve been depending on for countless generations. There’s just so much poverty and malnourishment. So some of the people have taken to pirating to try to sustain themselves.

Anyway. On the upside, over the last 10 years or so, there’s been increased focus on this issue. As of two or three years ago, there were over 30 NGOs focused on marine seafood sustainability. The gold standard I think by most people’s measure is the Marine Stewardship Council. And the way it works is in order to get the Marine Stewardship Council, the MSC logo, and certification. Which we’ve had since we started about 16 or 17 years ago. You have to do strict chain of custody monitoring. They’ll come in an audit you every year. It’s really quite an ordeal. But it has to be to be meaningful.

There are a lot of other sustainability organizations that aren’t nearly as strict. But the cumulative effect of all these different people focusing on sustainable seafood is that it’s basically if you're a fisherman and you're out there catching fish, and it’s not from a responsibly managed fishery, you're losing your markets.

Here a few years ago, Alaska decided that; “We’ve got the best seafood in the world.” This was a handful of companies. Nobody else really has wild salmon like we do. We don’t really need MSC and all the fees and the administrative burden that goes along with it. So they decided they were going to abandon that certification. Within two years they came back, begging to get it back.

Liz Wolfe: Wow.

Randy Hartnell: Because a lot of European countries, a lot of their customers around the world; not necessarily the companies themselves but the people that they’re selling to. The people they’re serving to, want to see some evidence of sustainability. So they had a big wakeup call. And now Alaska; I’m happy to report that Alaska seafood did get that. It was always managed sustainably, but that third party logo, certification, communicates to the consumers that this fish is being harvested sustainably.

Diane Sanfilippo: Today’s podcast is sponsored by Kettle and Fire bone broth and soups. We’ve talked about bone broth before and the many benefits, but to name a few, it’s been shown to reduce inflammation, improve digestion, and improve the quality of your skin. While I do like to make my own bone broth, there’s not always time for that. Kettle and Fire is the next best thing. They use organic chicken bones, and a slow simmer time to extract as much protein as possible. Not to mention that they use chicken feet; yay! Which increases the collagen and gelatin. And you can store it directly on your shelf for up to two years. Which is pretty cool, considering they’re a fresh, never frozen broth with no added preservatives or additives. Check them out at and use coupon code BalancedBites for 10% off, plus free shipping when you get six cartons or more. That’s one per customer. It’s 10% off, and free shipping on six cartons or more.

5. B corporation status and what it means [21:58]

Liz Wolfe: I also want to ask you quickly; just a brief sidestep into a different topic. When you were talking about not only the environmental impact, but the impact on human beings of the fishing industry. I wanted to comment on the fact that you are a B corporation. I’ve heard all kinds of stories about the global fishing industry, and how there are actual human rights abuses going on. I believe maybe in shrimp production and other parts of the world. And I could have that wrong.

But when you were talking about that, it reminded me of the fact that you all are a B Corporation, which to me is a very big deal. I know it’s not an easy certification to have. But I would love if you commented just quickly on your decision to do that and how it affects how you do business.

Randy Hartnell: Yeah, the B Corporation. We pursued that a few years ago and it is a very rigorous process. For those of your listeners who have never heard that, you can Google B Corporation and read all about it. But the tag line is “Business as a force for good.”

So basically that just means that we operate our business in the most sustainable possible way. We support our employees with great benefits, great working conditions. Basically it’s running your business according to the golden rule. Treating your employees and your customers, your vendors, the way you want to be treated. I don’t know how much it really benefits us. We don’t advertise it in a big way. Everybody that works for Vital Choice appreciates it. I just think it’s the right way to run business.

We’ve tried to recruit our vendors, or encourage our vendors to look into it. Basically it required us; one interesting thing I guess is that it required us to actually change the structure of our corporation. So we were an S corporation. Now we are an SPC corporation, which is, I believe, social purpose corporation. As I said, your listeners can go to or Google that and learn more about it.

6. Farmed fish and seafood [24:26]

Liz Wolfe: Perfect. Ok. Well, lets jump into some of the questions that folks had. And we’ll step back into the question about how wild seafood is better than farmed seafood.

Randy Hartnell: Ok. I love that question. Thanks to whomever asked it. The answer is; it’s not always necessarily better. That’s something of a misnomer.

Liz Wolfe: Wow, ok.

Randy Hartnell: There are many types of farmed seafood, like predominantly, particularly shellfish. Clams, mussels, oysters, some sea vegetables, that are perfectly sustainable and perfectly healthy. Again, they are minimal input, so they don’t require the veterinary drugs, and you don’t have to feed them. They feed themselves from their environment. As they’ve been doing for millions of years. So I’m a big fan of aqua culture when it comes to shellfish and sea vegetables.

Here a few weeks ago, 60 Minutes; I would encourage your listeners to maybe Google this, see if they can find it online. But 60 Minutes did an episode on a fisherman on the east coast who had switched over to farming kelp and shellfish. And it’s a really fascinating story.

The reason I think it’s important for people to know about this and sort of appreciate it is; we’re running out of land, and we’re running out of fresh water. But we’ve got three-quarters of this planet that’s covered with oceans. So it just seems logical that as our population grows, we start farming the ocean. Do more of that. And there is a lot of it that’s going on in Asian countries, but there’s a lot more potential for us to do that here.

When farmed fish or seafood becomes a problem is with something like farmed salmon. Which is, for the most part probably 98% of it is; none of it is MSC certified. There have been other certifications that have popped up. In my opinion, primarily just to greenwash not so sustainable farmed salmon. And I don’t want to say all of it’s the same, but I would say well over 90% of farmed salmon is being raised in a way that’s not that sustainable. So from an environmental standpoint, you’ve got these fish being raised in open ocean pens. So all the parasites, disease, chemicals, whatever goes right into the marine environment and impacts whatever indigenous species are local to that area.

Maybe the best example of that is in British Columbia. You have a gauntlet of salmon farms in the water along the migratory paths of the wild salmon. And what’s happening there; again, this is something that if anybody is interested in they can Google farmed salmon and learn a lot more about it. But the baby salmon, as they’re coming down out of the rivers and migrating out into the ocean, they’ve got to go through this gauntlet of hundreds of salmon farms. Salmon pens. So they’ve picked up the parasites, and it’s just a real adverse effect on the local wild salmon.

If you go to countries that had a wild salmon population in the areas where they put salmon farms, those have basically been wiped out. So Norway, Scotland, some other areas.

From a nutritional standpoint, farmed salmon are not eating the same thing a wild salmon is, so nutritionally they’re very different. For instance, wild salmon is a great source of antioxidants called astaxanthin. They’re a good source of vitamin D, omega-3 fats, and not so many omega-6 fats. That’s another topic, but those are two totally different fats that have different roles in our bodies.

Farmed salmon, like most other feedlot animals, are increasingly fed a lot of grains. Because, of course in the US, grain is relatively cheap. Corn and soybeans are subsidized, which makes them really cheap. That’s what we feed our cattle, for the most part. All the feedlot animals. And increasingly, that’s what we’re feeding the farmed salmon.

Another problem with farmed salmon is because they have to be fed some fish byproducts. And when we concentrate large numbers of fish down into pellets, you also concentrate the trace levels of contaminants that are in there. And when you feed that to the farmed salmon, then you're concentrating the contaminants.

So I can’t speak to what the situation is now, but I know a few years ago when they were testing farmed salmon, they had contaminant levels that were far higher than any wild salmon. And that’s part of the reason I believe they tried to decrease the animal protein, and feed them more plant based foods.

The takeaway is that they’ve got a lot more omega-6’s than they do omega-3’s. They are still a good source of omega-3’s. Just a different nutritional profile. So those are a few of the nutritional and environmental differences. Two of the main distinctions between wild and farmed salmon.

7. Contaminants in seafood [30:27]

Liz Wolfe: Ok. And with regards to; you mentioned the concentration of contaminants. I think this is a good time to talk about the larger fish. I get my tuna fish from you guys. And one of the questions that we had come in was, how do you determine which brands that carry canned tuna that is safe to consume? Obviously, we recommend Vital Choice tuna. But can you speak a little bit to how contaminants are concentrated in fish? And how you all are able to mitigate that.

Randy Hartnell: Sure. And as I said earlier, this is most people’s concern surrounding seafood. It has to do with the contaminants. I studied this since I started Vital Choice about 16 years ago. I’ve gone to scientific conferences. I’m just sort of by nature a fact finder. I want to be able to give people facts and truth, and not hearsay. So I’ve gone to scientists and biologist and really studied this and looked at the research.

By the way, we have been committed to doing a science-based newsletter almost since the beginning. We published over 1000 original articles, many of which have focused on this topic. Those are all available on our website. But distilling all of that I’ve learned, the number one thing that I can share with people is that most seafood that you find in the stores is perfectly safe. You want to avoid the larger, longer-lived predatory fish, like sharks, swordfish, and maybe the marlin. Anything that inhabits the top of the food chain.

Often, as you know as people just sort of paint with a broad brush and say, “Don’t eat tuna!”

Liz Wolfe: Right. You do hear that.

Randy Hartnell: And that’s what registers in people’s minds, so they don’t eat tuna but there are 3-pound tuna, like we sell. Or maybe 10-pound, whatever they are. They’re small, relative to the 6-7-800-pound bluefin that’s been out there swimming around for decades. They’re two totally different creatures. They have totally different diets, and contaminant profiles.

The big thing that most people miss; and I can list big studies that back this up. What most people fail to consider is the benefit side of the equation. The nutrients in seafood are so incredibly important. Our brain is 2% of our body weight, but it uses 20% of the oxygen we take in. It just has a huge need for nutrition, and specifically these omega-3 fats that are critical to brain function. So I’m happy to talk about toxins in seafood. And we definitely source what we find to be the cleanest possible options. But really the takeaway is people worry a lot more about toxins in seafood than they should. Sometimes I think the anxiety people experience is probably more damaging than the trace levels of contaminants. That’s especially true when it comes to child-rearing aged women. Pregnant and nursing women. It’s so incredibly important that they get those healthy fats for their healthy offspring.

Liz Wolfe: What I appreciate about what you're saying right now, is you literally just said; you're probably fine with what you’d find in the store. And I appreciate that you're not coming on saying, “only Vital Choice seafood is safe!”

Randy Hartnell: No.

8. Perfectionism around buying seafood [34:21]

Liz Wolfe: Of course, Vital Choice seafood is top of the line. Maybe it’s the Ferrari of seafood. I don’t know, maybe that’s a bad analogy. But we have had some questions from people. We have one right here. “Is the wild-caught salmon I buy at Costco good enough?” There’s a lot of perfectionism and anxiety around this question. And I love that you're helping diffuse some of that.

Randy Hartnell: You know, I love to tell this story about a customer of ours who called me one day from, I think, North Carolina. And he said, “Randy; my Costco says that they’re selling wild Alaska salmon. Fresh. And they’re only selling it for $7-8 a pound. They’ve got to be lying! That’s impossible!”

And I said, no. I was aware they were having a huge run this one year. And Costco, the chain, is a fantastic way for the industry to move a large quantity of fresh fish quickly. So I said, “No. That’s for real. They’re having a big run in Alaska, and they’re not going to have it for long. I suggest you go and buy whatever you can get into your freezer, because it’s a great deal. It’s a fantastic food.”

So yeah, occasionally you can find really good deals. Especially over in the next couple of months, there’s going to be fresh salmon in the markets. Depending on how the runs go. We’re there to fill in the gaps when it’s not available. And your question earlier about how people can figure out which fish is safe in the stores. We do apply a really high standard as far as quality, and purity.

We buy our tuna, as we probably mentioned before when I was on from just one fisherman. All of our canned tuna comes from one fisherman. And we buy the smallest fish that come off his boat. These are the smaller albacore; troll caught albacore anyway. So it’s kind of the best of the best. We source all of our products basically, again, based on the golden rule. What we want to eat. What we want to feed our kids. So that’s what you get when you buy our products.

But that doesn’t mean that seafood in grocery stores is not safe. It’s not so much a safety issue in grocery stores and restaurants, it’s often times a bait and switch issue. It’s a quality issue. These fats in seafood are notoriously unstable; they go rancid quickly. Grocery stores hate to throw them out. Most grocery stores hate seafood in general just because it’s so perishable, they end up throwing half of it away. So if you’ve got somebody running the seafood counter that’s not that careful, they’ll end up keeping it a day or two longer than they should rather than throw it out. So by the time you get it home and cook it, it just doesn’t taste very good.

My wife and I were at a bed and breakfast here in Napa recently. We sat down to breakfast with another couple, and they asked what we did and I explained. They said, “We always buy farmed salmon, because wild salmon is just too strong tasting!”

Liz Wolfe: Ah.

Randy Hartnell: This was a teachable moment, right? I said, “Wild salmon is not strong tasting.” This is for all your listeners, as well. If it’s “strong tasting” or fishy tasting. Not just salmon, but any seafood. Basically that means it’s old. Because fish out of the water. Or fish that’s been well cared for, flash frozen, vacuum sealed, should taste like it just came out of the water. And in fact, it does if you get it from a good source.

It’s just one of those misconceptions that’s out there. There are a lot of people that avoid seafood, because they think it tastes fishy. It’s just that they haven’t had good seafood.

Liz Wolfe: Well that was always me, as well. Especially living in the Midwest. {laughs} You can’t; salmon has to come a long way to get here. And if it’s getting here, and then it’s sitting in the store, and then it’s in the refrigerator. That’s an issue. Or even at a restaurant. So I was always the person that just didn’t like that stuff because it tasted fishy.

But then when I tasted your; I might say it wrong. Is it keta salmon?

Randy Hartnell: Yes.

Liz Wolfe: Keta, keta. I was like; oh, I think I can do this. And now I’m just a fan of all of the fish and salmon that you carry. So that was really kind of a big moment for me. Because there are a lot of folks that miss out on those nutrients probably just because of that reason. They feel like it’s too strong or it’s too fishy.

Randy Hartnell: I’d love to share a story, if I’ve got a minute here. A while back, we were taking inventory. My brother, who runs our operation center, found a box of Copper River king salmon portions. 6-ounce portions. Not from last year, but from two years ago. Not a full box; maybe a few dozen pieces. I think we had set those aside for a customer at their request, and they just kind of got lost.

So here we have these 2016 Copper River king salmon portions that we can’t sell them, they’re 2 years old. But Copper River king salmon is like the crème-de-la-crème. So I brought some home. We split them up, I brought some home. I figured I’d probably have to trim the outside. It may be a little freezer burnt or whatever.

Long story short, I took them out of the package, didn’t do anything with them. Put a little olive oil marinade on them. Stuck them under the broiler. And those things were incredible. They tasted like they just came out of the water. Just oozing with oil. So it just goes to show you; it really doesn’t matter what you put into the package. If the quality is good when it goes in, it’s going to be good when it comes out. As long as it’s been well cared for. Stored properly. Sealed properly.

9. Farmed Atlantic salmon [40:28]

Liz Wolfe: So I’ll ask a quick question. Maybe this is more complicated than yes or no. But if it’s as simple as that, feel free to just say yes or no. This is from a listener. I’m wondering if farmed Atlantic salmon is even worth eating?

Randy Hartnell: I guess it depends on what your alternatives are. I personally believe, and I think the evidence supports the fact that, omega-3 fats are so vitally important, I named my company after it. {laughs} They’re so vitally important that if you can only get them from farmed salmon, that’s certainly better than nothing. Better than not getting them at all. I think generally getting omega-3 fats from food, as is the case from most nutrients. We evolved to eat food, not pills or supplements.

I think supplements have a place; we sell supplements. But generally our biochemistry is designed to take what it needs out of food rather than pills or supplements. So my answer would be, better than nothing, definitely.

Liz Wolfe: Good, I like that.

Randy Hartnell: But it is complex, because there are sustainability issues. It just depends on where you are as far as how important that is to you.

Liz Wolfe: The Balanced Bites podcast is sponsored in part by the Nutritional Therapy Association. The NTA trains and certifies nutritional therapy practitioners and consultants (including me; Liz, I’m an NTP), emphasizing bio-individuality and the range of dietary strategies that support wellness. The NTA emphasizes local, whole, properly prepared nutrient dense foods as the key to restoring balance and enhancing the body’s ability to heal.

The NTA’s nutritional therapy practitioner program and new fully online nutritional therapy consultant program empower graduates with the education and skills needed to launch a successful, fulfilling career in holistic nutrition. To learn lots more about the NTA’s nutritional therapy programs, check out their free Nutritional Therapy 101 course as well, go to There are workshops in the US, Canada, and Australia, so chances are you’ll be able to find a venue that works for you.

10. Palatability and affordability [42:33]

Liz Wolfe: So one of the things, when people are worried about cost. And they really want to eat high quality salmon where they can, we will often encourage folks to eat something like wild caught sardines. Because they tend to be so affordable. So portable. Very little preparation is required. What do you think about that recommendation?

Randy Hartnell: I think that’s fantastic. Sardines are generally one of the most sustainable fish. And like you said, they are relatively inexpensive. There are quality issues with some of them. Just because they’re wild doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to taste good. We’ve got some companies, to save costs, because grocery stores are so price competitive. To save costs, they will catch the sardines in one place, they’ll freeze them, they’ll ship them over to Asia because there’s cheap labor over there. Thaw them out, put them in a can. Use some cheap vegetable oil. And presto, they’ve got cheap wild sardines. But you try them, and they don’t taste very good. And it’s why a lot of people don’t eat sardines. Disgusting!

Liz Wolfe: Yeah.

Randy Hartnell: So what we do is we go to Portugal. We get fish right off the boat, pack them fresh. Use a relatively expensive organic olive oil. And we have a lot of people tell us that they’re sardines they like and they can actually eat because they taste good.

So I would just say, if you're hyper sensitive, price sensitive, you may very well end up with something that doesn’t taste too good. That goes for sardines or salmon or just about anything else.

A point I like to make; there’s a story, I believe it’s from Zig Ziglar. He talks about this million-dollar race horse concept. If you had a million-dollar race horse, what would you feed it? You’d probably feed it the very best food you could get together for this thing. Spare no expense. And we are all million-dollar race horses, and we deserve to eat the best, healthiest food that we can afford. And a lot of times, people think they can’t afford it. Because I think, they don’t really appreciate how important it is.

There’s skyrocketing mental health disorders in this country. Increasing suicide. Aggression. Depression. All these things that had been linked in a lot of research to a deficiency in these omega-3 fats. Somebody just sent me an article today about that topic. People don’t make the connection between how critically important these nutrients in seafood are and all the adverse health conditions that are related to those. From skin conditions; dry skin, eczema, psoriasis. There are just dozens and dozens of chronic health conditions that are linked to these nutrients. These essential nutrients that are lacking in our terrestrial food supply.

So, maybe it’s not so expensive to spend a little bit more to get good seafood. And something that actually tastes good that you and your kids are going to want to eat. There’s just profound benefits. I’m not just saying that because I sell seafood. It’s because I sell seafood and I get a lot of questions, I want to be able to answer them. So as I said earlier, I’d done a lot of studying and know a lot of people. There are many pioneers in this field that have been studying this for decades. It’s just, many of them are really frustrated that all this biochemistry they’ve been learning doesn’t make it into public policy. It doesn’t make it out. It’s published in obscure science journals, and very few people ever read it.

So part of my mission in writing the book was to try to translate the science and get a consumable advice that will help people understand what’s better.

Liz Wolfe: I love that you’ve written this book. It’s helpful to be able to say, “Hey, I get this question a lot. It’s all in the book. Go grab the book, it’s all in there.”

One of the things I wanted to corroborate with what you’ve just said. One of the things I’ve told people for a long time is that when I’m not regularly eating my sardines; and I would also probably say salmon. Though I eat salmon a little bit less frequently, because I like just opening the sardine tin and eating them. It’s very easy. But I can definitely feel the difference in the health of my skin. And I’m someone that had skin issues growing up. Eczema and then acne for quite a few years. It definitely has a profound impact on the health of my skin. So we know these nutrients are really important for mental health. Overall, any manifestation health.

Randy Hartnell: There have been over 30,000 studies on omega-3 fats. And over 80% of them show benefit. The ones that don’t show benefit, many of them was just a poor study design or a dose that wasn’t effective. I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but there are studies that are designed to fail.

Liz Wolfe: Yes. I was just going to say the exact same thing. {laughs}

Randy Hartnell: I know a doctor in Texas who was recruited to do an omega-3 study. He looked at the design, and he said, “This is not going to work. I don’t want to be part of this.” The dose was so small. And of course it’s when; the newspapers love sensational headlines. So anything that goes against conventional wisdom; it’s conventional wisdom now that omega-3s are healthy. At least by people who pay attention. So it’s when some study comes out showing a failure. “Fish oil doesn’t work! Fish oil doesn’t help your heart!” Negative stories make headlines. And that’s what people see. That’s what they register. And then they go buy more chicken, or whatever.

Liz Wolfe: Mm-hmm.

Randy Hartnell: I appreciate you mentioning your personal story as far as skin problems. One reason I’m so darned passionate about this is I have seen this in my own life. My wife, when we first met many years ago, had three different types of inflammation related issues that doctors couldn’t fix. Basically said they were genetic, or whatever. But when we started learning this and started altering our diet, eating more seafood, limiting omega-6s. These things just all cleared up. And they’ve stayed gone.

My daughter; I have psoriasis in my family and she was diagnosed with psoriasis at 5 years old. It was just, as you know. Anybody that has it is just a really uncomfortable condition. But since she’s added these nutrients into her diet. Basically, it’s nonexistent. Maybe every once in a while, if she gets stressed out, it might flare up a little. But it just makes such a difference. And there are so many people that are suffering needlessly as a result of a deficiency of these fats. I appreciate you helping me get this message out.

Liz Wolfe: Well, and so many children, too. Now I have a 3-year-old daughter, and it does get harder and harder to get kids to eat good food once they’ve tasted the other stuff. {laughs}

Randy Hartnell: That’s true. You’ve got to start them young.

Liz Wolfe: Yes. Absolutely. Start them young, build a good foundation. And you can always make changes. A little bit is better than nothing at all. I think you said something close to that beforehand. I don’t want people to think that they have to change absolutely everything. Because that can feel like a really stressful mountain to climb. But if you can work in a couple of bites of salmon here and there, that’s a good start. That’s something, right?

Randy Hartnell: It’s so true. It’s not like we’re saying you’ve got to eat this stuff three times a day. It’s two to three servings a week of good quality, fatty fish will make a big difference. Especially when it comes to heart health. Just like the equivalent of 250 mg a day, which is just a few ounces, will make a difference in heart health. That’s according to Harvard studies.

There have been studies showing more is better. Depending on the condition. But just baby steps.

11. Environmental impact on seafood [51:18]

Liz Wolfe: Yeah. So let’s quickly take a little environmental detour. And then I’m going to ask you about what your favorite things to talk about, what you want people to know; what those are.

I’d like to first talk about the effect of environmental toxins on seafood in general. We had a couple of questions about microplastics. We had some questions about sunscreen being toxic to marine life. And we also had a question about things like makeup, things like that. What do you think are the top concerns about environmental toxins in seafood, and how do you deal with those?

Randy Hartnell: Well, a lot of the concerns as far as the health impact of eating contaminated seafood are hypothetical. There’s just not a lot of evidence out there. There’s, like I said, tens of thousands of studies showing the benefit. So if we have a scale, and we put all the benefits on one side and all the risks on the other, they’re just no comparison.

We used to really focus on this, because so many people asked about it. And I would go to conferences, and trade shows, and set up our booth. And I had a nice big stack of charts on mercury levels in seafood. We would test our fish a lot. Every year we tested for years and years.

As I got to know certain scientists; one in particular at NIH. He said, “You’re really doing your customers and the public a disservice by focusing on mercury. Because it’s not a problem.” It turns out he had been an author and researcher on one of the largest studies ever done on this subject. 14,500 pregnant nursing women in the UK. And they said they tested the mothers when they were pregnant. And they fully assume that as the kids were born and grew up; kids born to the mothers who had the most mercury in their tissues would have the most problems. And after they watched them for 10, 15, 20. This was in the early 90s and it’s been going on many decades now. What they concluded was it was the kids that were born to mothers that had the least seafood had the most developmental problems, and vice versa. And there was no upper end of benefit.

So basically what he was saying is you should not be focusing on the methyl mercury. Focus on the benefits. So we’ve tried to do that. It doesn’t mean; I’m happy to talk about it, and share these kinds of stories. And there are other studies. Maybe one thing people could think about is; forget all the studies. Let’s just look at people who eat a ton of seafood. People in Japan, for the most part, eat dozens of times more seafood than most Americans. Most Americans don’t eat hardly any. You go to Island Nations, like the Seychelles. They eat seafood every day. Pregnant women eat seafood every day. It’s coming out of the same oceans and environment that all seafood comes out of. Some is worse than others.

But bottom line is, people in other countries that eat a ton of seafood, and they think it’s ridiculous. I’ve heard it said that people in Japan think we’re crazy here to avoid seafood because of mercury issues. Because they’re eating it all the time. They have lower infant mortality. Lower incidence of just about every disease you want to imagine. Longer life expectancy. There are other cultural issues that play into that. But for the most part, if seafood was as toxic as the newspapers and fearmongers would have you believe, there wouldn’t be anybody in Japan.

Liz Wolfe: {laughs}

Randy Hartnell: There have been a few industrial accidents that have totally anomalous amounts of mercury. People were exposed to huge amounts of mercury in seafood. Minamata is one. It’s just no way representative of what you're buying in the supermarket, or from us. It’s that old saying, dose makes the poison. And that’s true.

I mean, most methyl mercury has been in the at least probably half or more of the methyl mercury that’s in the oceans has been there throughout time. It’s from natural causes. Life evolved in the ocean amid a background of mercury. So we figured out ways to deal with it. I think if we look at people around the world who eat a ton of seafood, that’s pretty strong evidence of the truth of that statement.

Liz Wolfe: I’m loving this. Because so much of; I really feel like the fear mongering at times will concentrate on the holistic community. I mean, it’s out there. It’s everywhere. But in the holistic community, you so often see; “This is dangerous! This is going to kill you! Your doctor won’t tell you this!” And people start to; their brains start to work that way. They start to only look for the negative things. Mercury in seafood. Or how often you're sitting during the day. All of these things are important things to be aware of, but let’s shift our focus to all of the amazing things in seafood. And the times that you do move during the day. And the good things that you're doing for your health.

I think that’s just a really, really nice shift in perspective that you are giving us here. And I appreciate that. Because you could be on here just selling your wares, and saying, “You really need to be worried about this, and I have the only seafood that’s going to be good for you.” I think it’s great that you don’t do that!

Randy Hartnell: Well thank you. I’m on a mission here. I have a friend, Peter Diamandis. He’s written a couple of really great books I just love. They’re really inspiring and optimistic. But one thing he talks about is the crisis news network; CNN.

Liz Wolfe: {laughs}

Randy Hartnell: He just loves to beat up on CNN. He has t-shirts that say, “CNN: Crisis News Network.” Basically, he says the media are drug pushers. And the drug of choice is bad news. And the other side of that is; we’re all walking around with these stone age brains, and we respond to negativity. The old saying; if it bleeds, it leads. Throughout evolution, we’re just prone to watch for threats and risks. And it’s still there, in spades. And some people, especially nowadays, really take advantage of that. Because it gets them a lot of attention.

So anyway. There’s a book called hardwiring happiness by Dr. Rick Harmon. And he talks about this. It was so bad, as well as what Peter was writing about. Once you realize that, that we’re just being played with all these negative headlines. Back to the mercury; it’s just one more way to scare people.

I think a lot of the people that are fear mongering, it’s well intentioned. They really believe that it’s dangerous. And I think there’s some real deception; intentional deception. Because people are selling expensive detoxification protocols and programs. So you can convince somebody that they’re really toxic and make a living doing that.

The old saying, “It’s hard to get a person to change his mind when his salary is dependent upon what he believes.” Something like that.

Liz Wolfe: Makes sense.

Randy Hartnell: That’s not exactly; it’s something like that. I’ll have the right version in my book.

Liz Wolfe: Yeah. I think I get the point. And maybe that’s part of the reason that my salary is never going to be astronomical {laughs}. Because my job is not to keep people dependent on what I have to say. I just kind of want people to live a more balanced lifestyle. Some of the stuff that you're talking about; it’s like, if what you can afford is Walmart salmon, better to have it than to not.

Randy Hartnell: Especially if it’s got an MSC logo on it. {laughs}

Liz Wolfe: I love that. And I love what you said about McDonald’s. It’s really cool that this is making it’s way into these larger companies. They’re learning to do the right thing. Because it’s better for probably everybody. Including their chain of supply, I guess.

Randy Hartnell: Yeah. And for your listeners that want to learn more about this, one really good book that I came across is by the; I’m not sure if he’s still the CEO of Oceana. That’s one of the environmental organizations focused on ocean health. His name is Andy Sharpless. And he wrote a book called Perfect Protein. It really goes into some of the details of what we talked about today.

12. Randy’s favorite subject to speak about [1:00:44]

Liz Wolfe: What do you feel like; what’s your favorite thing to talk about? What do you like to educate people on with regards to seafood and the work that you do?

Randy Hartnell: That’s pretty easy. It goes back to when we started. That is maternal health. The health of children. I’ve gotten to know quite a few of the scientists that work in this realm, and it’s just so critical that pregnant and nursing women have these nutrients on board.

One of the friends of mine who is a doctor revealed in one of his studies that women who don’t eat seafood during pregnancy are 50 times more likely to experience postpartum depression.

Liz Wolfe: Wow.

Randy Hartnell: You could probably substitute supplements, as well, those are beneficial. And actually the name of our company, Vital Choice, came from a passage in a book I was reading at that time that talked about just how vital; what a vital choice it was for mothers to get these nutrients into their diet when they’re pregnant.

I’ve since learned; there’s a fellow in Britain who has an organization called the Mother and Child Foundation. And he says that it’s critical for women, and fathers, to have good amounts of these on board before they get pregnant. Before conception. He makes the analogy; when you're going to plant a garden, you prepare the soil before you put the seed in. And that way it has a head start from the very beginning.

To go on a little bit further, he says the first thing that’s formed after conception is the heart. So if the heart is not healthy, it’s not going to optimally nourish the brain, which is next. So that’s what I’m passionate about. That’s what we named our company after. If you want to learn more about this, we have another URL, it’s called And that will take you to this section of our website dedicated to this subject, with a lot of articles and studies and further reading.

13. Rapid fire questions [1:02:59]

Liz Wolfe: Alright. Let’s do a couple of rapid fire questions, and then we’ll wrap it up. Because I’ve had you on the line for almost an hour now. It goes quickly. Are you concerned about the effects of microplastics on seafood?

Randy Hartnell: Absolutely. I mean, as I said earlier, that’s one reason we’ve got to clean up the ocean. Not only the ocean; the whole planet. We’re messing our nest, so to speak. And it’s very disturbing. The ocean chemistry is disturbing. The microplastics are disturbing. I believe we can, but not until there is sufficient incentive. The sooner people figure out how critical; how much we depend on the ocean. It’s not only food, but our climate and hopefully we’ll do something about it.

Liz Wolfe: One of the things that I think about often with questions like this is; and this is wrapping the affordability question in there. First of all, I make a point not to ever complain about how expensive healthy food is when I, myself, am going to Starbucks way more frequently than I need to be going to Starbucks. But at the same time, to tie that in, every single one of us is responsible for the issue of plastics in the ocean. When we go to Starbucks, and we get a plastic cup, or we get a plastic straw, or what have you. All of us can reduce our consumption of plastics and anything that’s going to end up in the ocean.

Randy Hartnell: I am so glad you mentioned that. I just sat down a couple of weeks ago. I was invited to a meeting here in my hometown by a fellow who has an organization that basically has been trying to publicize the fact. And believe me, I’ll go to Starbucks. I confess; I had a Starbucks today!

Liz Wolfe: {laughs}

Randy Hartnell: But not only the plastic, but the paper cups are not recyclable. You throw them in the little bin they’ve got there that says recycle, it implies they recycle. Well, they get packed up and shipped off to China. That’s what this fellow was telling me about. Not to mention the lids and the little stoppers. We definitely need to create recyclable plastic or some kind of alternative.

Liz Wolfe: Yes. Absolutely.

Randy Hartnell: There are a lot of smart people out there working on solutions, and I think I’ve worked with people, especially moms and dads get more omega-3s will have even more neurons.

Liz Wolfe: I like that! {laughs} I like that a lot. Alright, one more question. And I think this probably goes back to the idea of concentrated environmental contaminants, so you might just refer back to something you already said. But I’ll go ahead and ask it anyway. “I love shrimp, and hate the thought of never having it again. Is there a safe way to eat shrimp occasionally?” What are your thoughts on shrimp?

Randy Hartnell: Oh, absolutely. Again, you’ve got to be prepared to pay more. Again, the shrimp that come in from Asia are probably among the least sustainable foods in the world. Again, all kinds of information out there on the internet if you want to Google it.

We source wild shrimp from British Columbia and Alaska. And just recently we’ve been sourcing some from Mexico. And these are all sustainable, MSC certified fisheries. One thing that’s interesting is that most of the shrimp you get from Asia. Not strictly Asian, but a lot of it comes from there. Is treated with chemicals to preserve the color, and also to help them retain water. Because water is very profitable.

There was an MSC certified shrimp fishery, I think it was in Thailand, and we talked to them about possibly sourcing it. But we said no chemicals, and they said, “We’d have to charge you more if we quit using the chemicals that we put on it, to basically make it weigh more.” I said, yeah, that’s ok. And he just couldn’t wrap his brain around that, because everybody wants cheap food.

You asked me what I most like talking about; that’s a runner up. We’ve got to get out of this mentality where it’s the cheapest possible prices, without really considering what you're getting for it.

Liz Wolfe: Alright, a quick question about supplements. “Do you have any insight on what to look for for omega, DHA, fish oil supplements, that type of thing when it comes to sourcing and potential toxins?”

Randy Hartnell: I think any major brand, including our own, toxins are not an issue. It’s a very competitive environment, and companies won’t be around long if they’re putting out contaminated products. Like I said earlier; we consume our own products, our own supplements. We started our supplement line because my mom was buying some fish oil supplements at Costco and a lot of leg work couldn’t get to the bottom of where that fish oil was coming from. We got all kinds of stories. So we started our own because we know where it’s coming from.

But I would say any of the major brands. Nordic Naturals, Carlson’s. There are a lot of them out there that are; again, better than nothing. I don’t think contamination is a problem. Sometimes oxidation can be, so you want to get them with the best fresh by dates, keep them in the refrigerator. I saw a study just recently at a conference I was at that keeping your fish oil supplements in the refrigerator can double the shelf life. So a little tip for your listeners.

Liz Wolfe: Alright, two more questions and then we’ll be done. Oysters. This question is about oysters. “I’ve been feeding canned ones to my 1-year-old and just read a very ambiguous warning on the can the other day. Did all the Googling, but cannot figure out what the downside of these nutrient dense little buggars are for my girl.” Your thoughts?

Randy Hartnell: {laughs} One of my very favorite foods; I’ve probably eaten them half a dozen times in the last month at different places. I think we have some of the best right here in the pacific northwest, but there are also great oysters on the east coast.

What can I say about it? Again, it has to do with how fresh they are. You want them from water that is clean. There was an article in the news here recently that they sourced shellfish, they tested them and they were clean. In fact, these were from the same place that we’re shipping our live shellfish from here in Washington state.

They took them and they transplanted them to the area off of Seattle, and they let them grow there for a while. Then they tested them again, and they found all kinds of nasty stuff in them. So again, you want to source oysters or any shellfish or any seafood from reliable sources. Clean water. As far as contaminants, I think they’re just reflective of where they’re raised. So I’d be careful there. I hope that answers that.

Liz Wolfe: I think so. I think some of these brands have these warnings that are required by law. Kind of like in California; you see warnings about lead all the time.

Randy Hartnell: Yeah, the prop 65.

Liz Wolfe: Yeah.

Randy Hartnell: I was talking to somebody just the other day that they’d been buying oysters that are from China. And I’m not saying that all food from China or oysters from China are necessarily bad, but there’s a huge question mark there. Who the heck knows where they’re from?

What I can tell you for sure is that people in China; especially the more affluent, the rising middle class. They want American brands.

Liz Wolfe: Ah.

Randy Hartnell: They're really coveting American brands, because they don’t trust their own local brands. I don’t mean to overgeneralize, but generally that’s what I’m hearing. The rising middle class in China; which is millions and millions of people, trust American brands better than their own. So I personally would avoid canned oysters, or probably anything else, from that area.

Liz Wolfe: From that area. But there are good; you can go to Whole Foods or Natural Grocers and you can find boiled oysters, or oysters canned in olive oil. Just be careful about the ingredients, I would say, and where you get them. And like we’ve talked about; probably some is better than none.

Randy Hartnell: Absolutely. They’re going to have the omega-3s and the other nutrients. We kind of focused on omega-3s but there are a lot of other micronutrients in there that are important as well. Selenium and so on and so forth. Yeah, reputable brands I think you're going to be ok.

Liz Wolfe: Let’s talk about a fun one quickly. What about worms in salmon? That’s been all over the news lately. Is there an acceptable level of worms for salmon? I actually; it doesn’t bother me, frankly. As long as it’s flash frozen and cooked. {laughs}

Randy Hartnell: I’m so glad you brought this up, because I usually talk about it when we get the fresh versus frozen question. But wild salmon are one of the last truly wild foods we have on this planet. They’ve been swimming around out there for 10 million years, and they’ve got some freeloaders that ride along with them, and they are parasites. Not only salmon, but most fish. So you want to either cook them or freeze them. And that basically renders them inert and harmless.

There’s a particular, tiny little white worm that looks like a thread. It’s called anisakis. And sometimes you will find those in wild salmon. I wouldn’t want to eat; I like my salmon cooked medium rare. That wouldn’t be sufficient enough to dispatch those things. So I prefer my salmon previously frozen.

And honestly, when you go to a sushi bar; it’s fair to say that everything you get in a sushi bar has been previously frozen. Everything that’s not served alive. Most tuna, salmon. All of that has been previously frozen, for this purpose.

Liz Wolfe: So freezing will kill the worms. And then you can cook them just to make sure.

Randy Hartnell: That’s right. {laughs} A lot of times they’ll just kind of disappear; dissolve into the flesh. They’re harmless. Just a different arrangement of molecules is what I tell people.

Liz Wolfe: Got it. Ok final question, and this is selfish. I found some of your ikura, your salmon caviar, in my deep freeze. It’s been there about a year and a half. Is it still good?

Randy Hartnell: There’s only one way to find out. {laughs}

Liz Wolfe: Ugh! I can’t believe I forgot about it.

Randy Hartnell: You know, Liz what you might do is thaw it out, and take the top layer and just toss it. What’s down below that has been protected from exposure to the air. It’s probably just fine.

Liz Wolfe: Ok. Alright. Well I’ll let you know if anything terrible happens. Because I’m going to eat it all.

Randy Hartnell: {laughs} I’m sure there’s a lot of good nutrition there. It’s a funny thing; we had a woman who has a popular podcast who was pregnant last year. She talked about how she was buying our ikura while she was pregnant and eating it. It was such a concentrated source of these nutrients. And her podcast got picked up by Joe Rogan and some really high profile ones, and we basically had such a demand, we ran out of it.

Liz Wolfe: OH, are you talking about Rhonda Patrick?

Randy Hartnell: Yes!

Liz Wolfe: Yeah! I listened to her podcast as well, and I actually saw that on her Instagram. I was like; yes! I’ve been eating this stuff for years! {laughs}

Randy Hartnell: It was so cool. I’d never met her, and I had an email exchange with her. We don’t advertise with her. She’s very, has a lot of integrity and she doesn’t want any confusion about; she wants people to believe that she’s promoting things because she really believes in them. So we were honored with her ikura of choice.

Liz Wolfe: Yeah. I think she was eating it with avocado, is that right?

Randy Hartnell: That’s right.

Liz Wolfe: Yep. She’s a great one to follow.

Randy Hartnell: She’s amazing, isn’t she?

Liz Wolfe: She’s fantastic.

Randy Hartnell: She’s really bridged that gap from geeky scientist to podcast star.

Liz Wolfe: Yes. She and Chris Masterjohn are two people that I really appreciate for their ability to communicate the science and make it into something that I can somewhat decipher. We need people like that. And we need people like you who are writing these books about all of the questions. All of the concerns that people have about seafood, and putting it all in one place so we can refer back. So we can learn what we need to know about healthy eating and not be so afraid of our foods. I think that’s really awesome that you’ve written a book.

Can you remind people where to find it and when it will be? Is it out now?

Randy Hartnell: It’s pre-released on Amazon. If you just go and Google my name on Amazon, it will be there. Or Google the Seafood Prescription. It’s there. I’m not trying to get rich on it. So I’ve priced it at the very minimum. It will be released September 1st. So I’m still working on it.

Liz Wolfe: Alright, well I just tapped the preorder button. So everybody go look at Randy Hartnell, the Seafood Prescription. You can add that to your wish list or whatever it is. I think this is going to be a really important resource. So I’m really thrilled that you’ve done that.

Is there anything else that you want folks to know that you came here really hoping to get out there?

Randy Hartnell: I think we’ve covered all of it. I just mention that our website is full of lots of information. And again, our newsletter archive has over 1000 articles on a lot of this information.

One question that didn’t come up, interestingly, that I’ll just mention since we have talked about contaminants, and that is the Fukushima.

Liz Wolfe: Yeah. I was surprised that didn’t come up. What are your thoughts on that?

Randy Hartnell: Well, again, we submitted dozens and dozens of samples to a lab for testing for radiation. We’ve been doing that for years, ever since the event happened. Because everybody wanted to know about it. There were a lot of basically scary headlines talking about how all seafood was contaminated with radiation. The takeaway is, we’ve done dozens of studies and it’s perfectly safe. There’s no evidence of toxicity. What we’ve heard; what the explanation is, basically dilution. Just trillions of gallons of water between Fukushima and the pacific coast here. So it’s not getting into the seafood. At least in harmful quantities. So it’s good news.

But we have a lot more about that on our website. If people are interested they can go to and just put in the search bar Fukushima or radiation and pull up the articles that we’ve written about it.

Liz Wolfe: Perfect.

Randy Hartnell: So the bottom line is, and Liz maybe a parting comment. The more you know about seafood, and particularly Alaskan seafood, really the better the story gets. It’s safe. It’s sustainable. It tastes good. Not exclusively Alaskan, but that’s what I know most about. And that’s what most of our products come from. So it’s really a good news story.

Liz Wolfe: Well, I have pretty much one of everything that you all sell in my home. I’ve got tuna fish, I’ve got sardines. I’ve got stuff in my deep freeze; the ikura, tanner crab. I’ve got lobster, salmon, pretty much everything, I’ve tried it, and I’ve loved all of it. And I was never a seafood person, honestly, before Vital Choice. So I feel lucky that you all sponsor our podcast. And really grateful for the work that you do. So thank you so much, Randy.

Randy Hartnell: Thank you, Liz. That just always brings me joy to hear that, that we are providing something that is so good for people and that they enjoy.

Liz Wolfe: Absolutely. As a reminder, everyone can visit and sign up. I would encourage folks to sign up for your email newsletter. It’s filled with tons of great information. You can dive deeper on some of the topics that Randy and I touched on today.

So again, hop over to And, don’t forget to use our discount code, Balance18 for 15% off your first order. If you're new to Vital Choice, take advantage. So that’s it for this week. You can find me, Liz, at Join our email lists for free goodies and updates that you don’t find anywhere else on our website or on the podcast. While you’re on the internet, leave us an iTunes review. We’ll see you guys next week.

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