Nutrition Articles

Best and Worst Fish Choices

A Guide for a Healthy Body & Planet

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By Becky Hand, Licensed and Registered Dietitian         
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General Fish Guidelines for Health
Considering all of the nutritional, contamination and environmental concerns that surround fish, it's easy to see why adding more fish to your plate can be confusing. Based on the research and information currently available on all of these issues, here are my nutritional recommendations regarding fish:
  • Pregnant women, women trying to conceive and families with young children should follow the EPA/FDA fish consumption guidelines.
     
  • Other adults should simply eat fish. The data shows that the health benefits of eating several 3- to 4-oz. (cooked) servings weekly outweighs the risks of ingesting contaminants in fish.
     
  • Eat a variety of fish species and be sure to include smaller-sized fish in your selections, for they contain a lesser amount of contaminants.  Examples include:  catfish, cod, haddock, Atlantic mackerel, ocean perch, pollock, salmon, canned light tuna, and whitefish. 
     
  • If you are mostly vegetarian or a pescetarian (a person who relies on fish as your primary protein source), most of the fish you eat should have a ''lower level of mercury'' as indicated in this chart from the FDA.
     
  • If you are an angler, check with the local authorities for contaminant levels where you fish.  Limit your consumption if those levels are high.
     
  • When purchasing fish, check with your grocery store or supplier to assure that they are selling only sustainable fish and seafood products.  
 
Within the field of food, nutrition, and health it is easy for consumers to get mixed messages that result in confusion and frustration.  Sensationalism sells and the fear of harm often overshadows the science of health benefits. However, by following the steps above, you can easily develop your own individualized plan for fish consumption that will allow you to reap the health benefits while decreasing your risk of ingesting contaminants.
 

Sources
 
Environmental Defense Fund. ''Complete List of Seafood Eco-Ratings,'' accessed April 2012. http://apps.edf.org.
 
Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. ''Seafood Recommendations,'' accessed April 2012. http://www.montereybayaquarium.org.
 
United States Environmental Protection Agency. ''What You Need to Know about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish,'' accessed April 2012. http://water.epa.gov.
 
United States Environmental Protection Agency. ''Advisories Where You Live,'' accessed April 2012. http://water.epa.gov.
 
United States Food and Drug Administration. ''Mercury Levels in Commercial Fish and Shellfish (1990-2010),'' accessed April 2012. http://www.fda.gov.
 

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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

  • I live on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. So we eat, depending on the season, catfish, redfish, red snapper, grouper, lemonfish, flounder, shrimp, crawfish, and crabs. I buy my seafood from a local market, and it's always fresh. - 4/28/2016 10:31:08 AM
  • I eat Salmon & Talapia. It looks like it's ok to eat those two kind of fish. I'm not sure. I hope everyone has a Wonderful & Blessed Wednesday! - 4/27/2016 8:09:12 PM
  • Mullet? Seriously? We use it for bait. And regarding the farm-raised salmon, it tastes like Purina fish chow. I'll pay the extra for the wild-caught salmon, which is better for you and tastes a lot better, too. - 3/7/2016 4:20:12 PM
  • The food used to feed the fish is derived from wild caught herring. As a result, the herring fisheries are being over fished. It takes about three pounds of wild caught fish to produce a pound of salmon. It is more environmentally prudent to eat the herring. The Stanford evaluation can be found at:

    http://news.stanf
    ord.edu/pr/00
    /fishfarms628.html - 12/12/2015 8:41:39 AM
  • What about other fish types? - 11/3/2015 11:56:23 PM
  • This article and list fail to mention that while "lake trout" is high in omega-3's, if it comes from one of the Great Lakes or their tributaries, it is not safe to eat more than once a week and not at all for pregnant women and for children. Same for lake whitefish. Sadly, the big lakes are still very polluted and the fish have high PCB and mercury levels. Even though lakeshore industries and municipal sewage plants are not supposed to dump in the lakes, they still do. It's a crime against one of the most beautiful places in the US. - 7/25/2015 8:55:12 AM
  • I won't touch farmed anything with a 10 foot pole! The closest I will get to farmed is fish harvested from traditional Hawai'ian fishponds. I also try to get a lot of my fish from the local fisherman who sell their catch at the Farmer's Markets. I can often find Opah (Moonfish), Aku (Skipjack tuna), Uhu (parrot fish), and Weke (Goatfish). - 12/9/2014 5:11:05 PM
  • This is a very interesting and helpful article. I have recently introduced more fish in my diet as a protein source (I don't eat meat) and I was a bit worried as I have read articles on contaminants in many fish species. Here I have discovered that the fish I mostly choose (salmon, codfish, tuna, hake) are amont the least dangerous ones. Thanks! - 12/9/2014 10:05:17 AM
  • 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

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