Nutrition Articles

Wild or Farmed Fish: What's Better?

The Pros and Cons for Your Health and the Planet

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Cons of Wild Fish
  • Overfishing: Most marine biologists agree that there will not be enough wild-captured fish available to meet the growing demand, and many fisheries do not catch wild fish in a sustainable way. Overfishing can deplete certain species of fish, which affects the ecosystem at large.
  • Price: Fresh wild fish is sometimes hard to find and usually more expensive than farmed fish.
  • Distance traveled: Unfortunately, not every fish lover lives on the coast or near a fishery. An Alaskan salmon, for example, must be shipped thousands of miles to reach a grocery store near you. The shipping of fish all over the world uses fossil fuels and pollutes the environment.
Although there are established health advantages to eating fatty fish, the risks of contaminants can’t be ignored either. All fish, wild or farmed, must adhere to FDA limits for PCB content and mercury levels, but some fish may measure in just below that cutoff. This content can build up in the body over time and cause problems later. However, many scientists believe that the heart-healthy benefits of consuming fish outweigh the risk, especially for older adults who may have already had a heart attack. But younger consumers, especially woman who may become pregnant and have a lifetime of exposure to these pollutants ahead of them, may wish to limit the amount of farmed fish they eat.

Only you can decide whether the cardiovascular benefits of fish outweigh the possible safety, nutritional or environmental issues associated with the type of fish you eat. If you eat fish regularly, ask about its source when ordering at a restaurant and read labels for origin when shopping at the supermarket.

No matter what type of fish or seafood you choose, SparkPeople Dietitian Becky Hand offers these top 5 tips for adults* to enjoy healthy fish:
  1. Make seafood a priority. Enjoy fish or seafood at least twice per week.
  2. Be adventurous. Try various types of seafood that you enjoy.
  3. Reel in fatty fish such as salmon and trout. These offer the most health benefits. If you enjoy lean fish such as tilapia and catfish, think about adding another serving of fatty fish to your weekly dinner menu to make up for it.
  4. Don't skimp on lean fish. They're healthy, too! Aside from being low in fat and calories, lean fish and shellfish are also loaded with micronutrients that are necessary for good health. For example, tilapia is high in selenium; clams are high in iron; and oysters are high in zinc.
  5. Prepare fish properly. Use low-fat cooking techniques such as broiling, baking, stir-frying, and sautéing. Avoid fried fish and highly processed fish foods such as fish sticks. Season with herbs, spices, marinades and rubs.
*These fish guidelines apply to adults who are not pregnant or breastfeeding. Seafood guidelines are different for children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Editor's Note: For more information on a variety of fish, sushi and seafood, including printable pocket-size reference guides, visit: www.MontereyBayAquarium.org or the Washington State Department of Health.

This article has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople nutrition expert, Becky Hand, Licensed and Registered Dietitian.
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About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.

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