We have been told often how great fish is for us—and for good reason. Packed with protein, heart and brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA), vitamin B12, vitamin D and iron, fish are one of the best things you can eat. So yes, that childhood card game was right on the money: “Go Fish!”
The current U.S. government My Plate dietary guidelines recommend that adults vary their protein routine throughout the week and eat at least 8 ounces of fish (or two servings) each week. While it’s so good for your brain, bod and even your skin, you can overdo it … so be mindful of fish high in mercury (more on that below).
To make it easy to add the tastiest fish to your shopping list, here’s the top 5 healthiest fish to eat—and 12 to avoid (because they are the least sustainable and highest in mercury and other harmful chemicals such as PCBs).
The 5 Best Fish to Eat
Wild-caught Alaskan salmon
Hallelujah! Our go-to salad topper makes the nice list! Canned, fresh, and frozen varieties of this pretty pink fish are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, selenium, and phosphorus. Wild-caught salmon from Alaska (often sold in sockeye and pink varieties) are notable for their low amount of contamination and high level of healthy fats.
The robust, sturdy texture of mackerel makes it wildly versatile to cook in any way you desire. (We love grilling, broiling or searing it!) Mackerel is one of the best fish to eat since it can repopulate quickly and, as a result, isn’t often at risk of overfishing. This strong-flavored, slightly salty-tasting fish has an abundance of omega-3s, protein, vitamin D, magnesium and phosphorus.
A popular part of the Nordic Diet—eat Atlantic herring pickled, smoked or dried. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that herring packs in even more omega-3s than mackerel and sardines (more on the latter fish coming soon). Herring is also a good source of vitamin B12, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin D, selenium and phosphorus.
Have your tuna wrapped inside sushi, seared and served atop a nicoise salad or stirred into a tuna salad sandwich filling. Whether fresh, frozen or canned, tuna is high in protein and phosphorus and low in calories. Tuna also offers some vitamin D. Albacore, skipjack and yellowfin are your best bets in terms of sustainability, per the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.
Wild-caught Pacific sardines
Quick and efficient at reproducing, inexpensive to buy and easy to stock up on since they are shelf-stable, these small fish are great for more than just topping a cracker. One 3-ounce serving of sardines provides about 1,500 mg of omega-3s, according to the NIH, plus vitamin D and calcium. Try them sautéed in olive oil, garlic and tomatoes, then seasoned with salt, pepper and a hint of lemon juice.
The Worst Fish to Eat
To limit overfishing, pollution and consuming too many contaminants (including mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs), it’s important to shop smartly as you’re seeking out the healthiest fish. This is especially vital for certain populations. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and FDA have issued guidelines that caution kids and women who are of childbearing age, pregnant or breastfeeding to steer clear of the following fish due to their mercury content:
- Bigeye tuna
- King mackerel
- Orange roughy
According to Sustained Seas and Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, two groups dedicated to promoting sustainable fisheries through consumer education and product labeling, there are a “Dirty Dozen” of fish that all adults should avoid, if possible, due to contamination or endangered fish species.
Note that this list does fluctuate as fishing practices evolve and based on your geographic location. For the latest information about the worst fish to eat, check out the NOAA Fisheries Stock Status Updates and cross-reference it with the Seafood Watch’s Consumer Guide for your state.
- Atlantic cod
- Atlantic flatfish (including halibut, flounder and sole)
- Caviar (such as beluga and wild-caught sturgeon)
- Chilean sea bass
- Farmed Atlantic salmon
- Imported basa/swai/tra (which may be labeled as “catfish”)
- Imported farmed shrimp
- Imported king crab
- Orange roughy
- Atlantic Bluefin tuna
(photo credit: Shutterstock)