Nutrition Articles

Best and Worst Fish Choices

A Guide for a Healthy Body & Planet

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Word is spreading that fish is good for your health, but like many matters of health and nutrition, there’s nothing simple about simply eating fish. Even though many varieties can be good for your health, contaminants such as mercury and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), found in many types of fish, may be detrimental to your health.

But it gets even more complicated. Beyond choosing fish based on healthfulness (considering things like abundance of healthy omega-3 fatty acids and low concentrations of mercury and contaminants), consuming fish also has an environmental impact. Many environmental advocates have reported that the mismanagement of many large-scale fishing operations has resulted in overfishing (and the plummeting of some wild fish populations). Fish farming, one alternative to wild fish, may help protect these populations, but other groups claim that fish farming has led to other problems, like the overuse of antibiotics to control disease.

Trying to keep track of which types of fish are healthy and safe—not only for you, but also for the environment—can be daunting, to say the least. And here’s why: Making the right choice when it comes to fish means looking for fish that have the highest nutritional content, lowest levels of contaminants, and, for those concerned with the environment, the lightest impact on the planet. Let's explore how to make the best choices to meet all of these tricky requirements.

Nutrition and Omega-3s
Nutrients found in foods are usually straightforward.  When choosing fish, people generally want to know which types are highest in omega-3 fatty acids. Concerning omega-3s alone, the following chart ranks the omega-3s in fish from highest content to lowest.
 

Species
3 oz edible portion
Grams
Omega-3
Mackerel, Atlantic 2.6
Chub 2.6
Herring 2.5
King Mackerel 2.2
Chub Mackerel 2.2
Trout, lean lake 2.1
Spiny Dogfish 2.0
Trout, lake 2.0
Salmon, Atlantic, farmed 1.9
Herring, pacific 1.8
Whitefish 1.8
Herring, Atlantic 1.7
Bluefin Tuna 1.6
Chinook Salmon 1.5
Sablefish 1.5
Albacore Tuna 1.5
Whitefish, lake 1.5
Sturgeon, Atlantic 1.5
Canned Sardines 1.4
Pink Salmon 1.0
Smelt 1.0
Striped Bass 0.8
Pollock 0.5
Catfish 0.5
Halibut, Pacific 0.5
Catfish or Cod 0.3
Flounder or Perch 0.2
Snapper or Grouper 0.2
Sole 0.1

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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • Small suggestion: expand on "light" tuna: CHUNK light, typically made from smaller tuna, has less mercury. Albacore has QUITE A BIT and is "light" in color... I think this is confusing for people. Especially pregnant women, petite people like myself, and children should not be using canned albacore as a staple!!! Larger people can get away with a can or so a week... - 6/6/2014 9:16:50 AM
  • Incredibly helpful article - I don't believe I've ever seen the statistics not only on omega-3 amounts, but also for the contaminants (especially mercury). Great report!!! - 6/6/2014 2:25:48 AM
  • DASHDIETER1
    I am told to eat fish 3 days a week, but cannot stand the fishy taste. Cod and canned tuna is about all I can handle but feel I am losing out on the benefits the other fish have to offer, Any tips to get me through? - 10/8/2013 11:08:52 AM
  • DAWN784
    I eat quite a bit of Tilapia and I didnt see it on the list of Omega-3;s. - 8/1/2013 11:04:15 AM
  • I love my fish but this was great info. - 6/30/2013 9:53:28 AM
  • The issue is that most fish is actually poisoned with mercury and other hard metals. Also, most of the fish you buy or get at a restaurant is not actually the fish you think it is.

    http://articles
    .latimes.com/
    2013/feb/21/b
    usiness/la-fi
    -mo-seafood-m
    islabeling-un
    ited-states-20130221 - 4/30/2013 12:24:06 PM
  • The problem isn't just overfishing of one species but the enormous amount of waste involved in the industry. With net fishing, massive amounts of marine life are killed and discarded for the sake of a relatively small amount of yield that makes it to the market. - 4/30/2013 11:28:04 AM
  • I have found that the individually portioned salmon and tuna are great go-to add ons to my salad. I always keep some in my desk drawer and having them convenient reminds me to eat more fish.

    I need to become more adventurous to buy fish in the market and prepare it for the family -right now it is usually mussles and shrimp. Thanks for a great article! - 4/30/2013 11:08:51 AM
  • My husband was a commercial lobsterman and a commercial fisherman before he became a capt. of a geophysical research boat, and then capt of tugs for over 40 years. I was a worker for the Barnegat Lighthouse fish store near where we live. We love fish. I know wild fish is better for you, but we are depleting our oceans. Farmed fish comes a 2nd choice. We love lobsters, but it takes many years to grow. They can live to very old ages. It's a beautiful animal and the are being depleted from our oceans due to our greed. The bigger the lobster, the tougher the meat. The latter can be chopped and used for salads. We very rarely eat a lobster. - 4/30/2013 9:45:57 AM
  • I came to this article confused....I leave this article confused....I stick with salmon and tuna.... - 4/30/2013 1:19:55 AM
  • I personally cannot stand mackerel, which is a shame since it is high in the omegas; the fish I like is not on here, parrot fish, bream, red snapper; are these fishes not healthy? - 4/1/2013 7:01:28 AM
  • TRISHMO1
    not all fish is equal, interesting - 2/11/2013 2:38:15 PM
  • AJ_103
    While I don't mind fish, I can rarely bring myself to buy it at the grocery. It is so difficult to find "wild caught" anything from the United States. I will pretty much buy wild-caught Alaskan salmon, but it' hard to find. Watch what you are buying folks...the salmon at Costco (and most stores) is farm-raised in Thailand, Vietnam, China, etc...and it says right there on the package "color derived from feed"! WHAT?!?! Because the farm-raised fish aren't eating their "normal" diet, artificial coloring is added to their food to make their flesh pink. Pretty appetizing, huh? Also, there is a campaign now to stop genetically-engin
    eered salmon...if you haven't heard about the connection between GMO's and allergies, gastrointestinal issues, cancer, and other health issues, do a little research...and say no to genetically-modif
    ied salmon! - 2/7/2013 11:04:10 PM
  • I wish wild rainbow trout was on here. - 2/7/2013 9:56:04 PM
  • I didn't see Tilapia on the list, or did I just miss it? - 2/7/2013 2:18:30 PM

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