What’s the Healthiest Fish to Eat?
Rebecca Robin, IIN Content Editor
Why eat fish?
There are many delicious ways to enjoy fish, from a sweet glazed salmon or a tangy lemon-and-herb-crusted halibut. Aside from its tasty qualities, fish can be a great staple of a healthy diet.
Fish is considered a lean form of protein, which encourages muscle building and maintenance of a healthy weight. Fish contains nutrients that strengthen your heart and brain, improve muscle health, and, most notably, provide the body with essential omega-3 fatty acids, like EPA and DHA. These healthy fats lower blood pressure and cholesterol, prevent inflammation, and reduce brain shrinkage and deterioration.
Fish is also a great source of fat-soluble vitamin D, aiding your body’s immune system and metabolism function and playing a role in post-exercise muscle regeneration. But that’s not all. With a variety of B-complex vitamins and essential minerals, like iron, zinc, magnesium, and potassium, adding more fish to your diet can help you achieve better all-around health and prevent common chronic lifestyle diseases.
Choosing sustainable, high-quality fish
When choosing the healthiest type of fish, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is a great resource to learn which fish are farm-raised versus sustainably sourced from uncontaminated waters. The EDF works to improve coastal communities and marine habitats, raising healthier fish that also have a higher nutritional content.
The ten healthiest fish to try
1. Wild Alaskan salmon
Wild Alaskan salmon caught in oceans, lakes, and rivers is your best bet for a salmon option likely to be less contaminated with mercury or other toxins.
- While more expensive than farmed salmon, it has less saturated fat and a higher content of minerals.
- Wild Alaskan salmon contains nutrients like potassium, zinc, and iron as well as bioactive compounds like astaxanthin, a carotenoid compound that may improve the skin’s UV resistance.
2. Albacore tuna
This is the kind of tuna generally found canned in grocery stores. Look for “troll or pole-caught," meaning the fish are smaller and less likely to have been contaminated by mercury.
- Tuna contains key minerals, such as calcium, iodine, iron, potassium, and phosphorus.
- It’s also a great source of selenium, which regulates your immune system and acts as an antioxidant that regulates thyroid hormones.
Mackerel is known for its bold flavor and high fat content. It’s generally caught using a “purse seine system,” which means the net is close to the ocean’s surface and has less of an environmental impact.
- One serving of mackerel provides 100% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin D.
- Mackerel’s fatty acids improve endurance and recovery after exercise and support radiant healthy-looking skin.
Sardines are an inexpensive, yet highly nutritious, fish. Commonly eaten in their whole form, the small organs and bones provide extra nutrition for the body.
- Sardines are a great source of calcium to support bone health.
- As a small fish that feeds only on plankton, it is one of the least contaminated sources of fish.
This white flaky fish is known for its mild flavor compared to other fish. It’s a low-fat fish, which means it’s also less likely to contain harmful contaminates, like mercury.
- Cod is a great source of phosphorus, niacin, and vitamin B12, strengthening your bones, lowering cholesterol, and helping with red blood cell formation.
- Cod liver oil is commonly used to create vitamin D and fish oil (omega-3) supplements.
Halibut is a massive flatfish with a firm steak-like texture, which makes it perfect for grilling.
- Halibut’s high selenium content can reduce oxidative stress and the buildup of bad cholesterol in your arteries.
- It contains vitamin B6, promoting proper liver and nerve function.
A popular seafood choice, oysters are a saltwater mollusk found in oceans and bays.
- A serving of oysters meets 100% of the recommended daily intake for vitamin B12, zinc, and copper!
- Oysters also contain 75% of the recommended daily intake of selenium and vitamin D.
8. Lake trout
Like salmon, trout is abundant in cold-water rivers and lakes. It’s a low-fat option that offers all eight essential amino acids your body needs!
- Trout’s fat content is made up of unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids. One serving provides 837 milligrams, which accounts for over half the recommended daily intake of omega-3s.
- It’s a great source of potassium, maintaining fluid balance and ensuring healthy nerve function and muscle contraction.
9. Freshwater whitefish
Freshwater whitefish is native to icy, northern lakes. Its high fat content lends itself well to being smoked or incorporated into a seafood chowder.
- Freshwater whitefish contains a healthy dose of vitamin B, selenium, and iodine.
- It’s a great source of phosphorus, promoting strong bones and the prevention of osteoporosis.
Herring is a small, salted fish found in the coastal areas of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. It’s typically canned and served smoked or pickled.
- As a small, fatty fish, it’s on the higher scale of omega-3 content, reducing inflammation in the body.
- Herring is also high in vitamin A and vitamin B12.
Fish to avoid
The EDF keeps an updated list of fish that are likely to be contaminated by mercury, carbon, and other toxins. Eating too much mercury-contaminated fish can lead to reproductive issues and nervous-system disorders. These fish are almost always bigger predatory fish, including:
- Bluefin tuna
- Chilean sea bass
- King mackerel
- Orange roughy
How much should you eat?
The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. A typical serving size of fish ranges from three to six ounces, however, the FDA suggests that pregnant women and children be more aware of their serving size due to the mercury content in some fish.
Speaking with a personal nutritionist or dietitian is recommended to determine how to best integrate fish into your diet. Everyone has unique nutritional needs. This is what we at IIN refer to as bio-individuality, the concept that diet and lifestyle practices will look different for everyone. This “no one size fits all” approach is key when figuring out the healthiest diet for your unique body!
Eating sustainably can contribute to a ripple effect of healthier choices.
You are a product of the food you eat. That’s why it’s so important to fuel yourself with high-quality foods that nourish all areas of your health. When you make an effort to eat foods that are raised in a healthy environment, you are having an impact not only on your personal health but also on the health of the greater global community.
When you make healthy food choices that support your well-being, it can translate into the way you make choices in your personal life and the world around you. Check out an IIN Sample Class today to gain a better understanding of this ripple effect and how you can contribute to the health and happiness of the world.