The 5 Healthiest Fish to Eat (and 12 You Should Avoid)

By Karla Walsh

We’ve long 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 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults eat at least 8 ounces of fish (or two servings) each week. Keep in mind that while it’s great for your brain, bod, and skin, you can overdo it. Be mindful of consuming fish with high mercury levels (we’ll get into this below).  

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To help you choose the tastiest fish for your shopping list, here are the five types to eat—and the 12 types to avoid (the least sustainable and highest in mercury and PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls).

The 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 Alaskan salmon (often sold in sockeye and pink varieties) are notable for their low amount of contamination and high amount of healthy fats.  

Atlantic mackerel



The robust, sturdy texture makes mackerel wildly versatile to cook. (We love grilling, broiling or searing it!) Mackerel is one of the best fish to eat since it can repopulate quickly and isn’t at high risk of overfishing. This strong-flavored, slightly salty-tasting fish is ample in omega-3s, protein,  vitamin D, magnesium and phosphorus.

Atlantic herring



A popular part of the Nordic Diet, you can 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. Herring is also a good source of vitamin B12, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin D, selenium and phosphorus.




Wrapped inside sushi, seared atop a Nicoise salad, or spread into a sandwich, fresh, frozen, and canned tuna are all high in protein and phosphorus and low in calories. Tuna also offers some vitamin D (about 100 IUs per serving). 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’re shelf-stable, these small fish are great for more than just topping pizzas or adding to Caesar salad dressing. One 3-ounce serving of sardines provides about 1,500 milligrams of omega-3s, according to the NIH, plus vitamin D and calcium. 

RELATED: Brain-Healthy Foods to Help You Focus Better Today

The Worst Fish to Eat

To limit overfishing, pollution, and consuming too many contaminants (including mercury and  PCBs), it’s important to shop for “healthy” fish smartly. This is especially important for certain populations. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have issued guidelines cautioning children and women of childbearing age, pregnant, or breastfeeding, to steer clear of shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish due to their mercury content.

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. This is a list of 12 fish all adults should try to avoid due to contamination or endangered fish species.

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This list fluctuates based on your location and evolving fishing practices. For the latest information about the worst fish to eat, check out the NOAA Fisheries Stock Status Updates and cross-reference it with your state’s Seafood Watch’s Consumer Guide

  1. Atlantic cod
  2. Atlantic flatfish (including halibut, flounder, and sole)
  3. Caviar (such as beluga and wild-caught sturgeon)
  4. Chilean sea bass
  5. Eel
  6. Farmed Atlantic salmon
  7. Imported basa/swai/tra (which may be labeled as “catfish”)
  8. Imported farmed shrimp
  9. Imported king crab
  10. Orange roughy
  11. Shark
  12. Atlantic Bluefin tuna

Fish provide beneficial nutrients like omega-3s, calcium, and vitamin D. Unfortunately, due to overfishing, pollution, and contaminants, there are some types you should avoid. By staying up-to-date with the seafood “Dirty Dozen,” you’ll not only keep yourself healthy, but you’ll keep the ocean healthy, too. And, yes, you can still eat sushi.

(Images: Shutterstock)

About Karla Walsh
Health, Food, Wine and Relationship Writer + Cooking and Wine Event Host

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