Top 5 Nutritious Fish to Include in Your Diet—and 5 to Avoid

Most likely, you already know that fish should be consumed twice a week. Fish is a healthy, lean source of protein. The oily types, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fats that promote heart and brain health.

There’s also the concern about the environment–and choosing seafood that is sustainably produced. If you’re anything like me, then you’re always a bit confused when standing at the fish counter: What’s best for me and for the environment? We conducted some research to find out which fish are the healthiest to eat in terms of sustainability, mercury content and nutritional benefits.

Five of the healthiest fish to eat
Harissa Mackerel & Endive

Pictured recipe: Harissa Mackerel & Endive Recipe

  1. Atlantic Mackerel
    The species has a rapid growth rate, so it can repopulate easily and handle larger amounts of fishing. This man is ocean-friendly because the gear used to capture Atlantic mackerel varieties is environmentally friendly and not likely to cause major habitat destruction. This fish has a strong flavor and is high in omega-3s. It also contains a lot of protein, 20 grams per 3-ounce fillet. It pairs well with bold seasonings. Try our recipe Harissa Mackerel & Endive for a tasty, mildly spicy appetizer or entree.

Credit score: Photographer/Jacob Fox, Meals Styling/Sue Mitchell, Meals Styling/Kelsey Bulat

Recipe: Roasted Salmon With Lentil “Caviar”.

  1. Salmon wild-caught (together)
    Wild-caught Salmon is low in contaminants such as mercury and lead. Some salmon species, such as pink and stockeye, that come from well-managed fishing grounds around the world (particularly Alaska), also check off the box for having lower levels of mercury and lead. Think about how well managed Alaska’s fisheries for salmon are: Biologists are stationed at the mouths of rivers to count how many wild fish return to breed. The fishery will be closed if the numbers begin to decline, before it reaches the limit, as happened recently with some Chinook fishing. Alaskan wild-caught Salmon are healthier (they contain more than 1,500mg of omega-3s in each serving) and more sustainable because of this close monitoring.

Salmon in a can is a more affordable way to include this healthy seafood into your diet. Salmon in cans is not only a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, but it’s also a good non-dairy calcium. One 3-ounce serving provides 18% of the daily requirements. You can find canned wild salmon in Alaskan sockeye, but you should check the label. Try our Fast Lentil Salmon salad for an easy and nutritious meal on the go.

Recipe: Romaine wedges with Sardines & Caramelized Onions

  1. Sardines wild-caught (together canned)
    Many lists of superfoods include the tiny, inexpensive sardine. And for good reason. The sardine is a fish that contains almost 1,200mg of omega-3 fats per serving. It is also one amongst the few foods which are naturally high in vitamin D. Sardines are also one of the few foods that naturally contain a lot calcium. Each serving contains 33% of what you need each day.

Pacific sardines are a fast-breeding species that has recovered from both overfishing as well as a complete collapse in the Nineteen Forties. Our delicious Lemon-Garlic Sardinefettuccine will make even sardine-skeptics love sardines.

Trout with Hearts of Palm Salad and Sage Brown Butter Credit Score: Greg DuPree

Trout with Sage Brown Butter and Hearts of Palm Salad

  1. Rainbow Trout and a few Lake varieties
    Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch states that rainbow trout, also known as steelhead fish, is one of the best fish to eat if it’s farmed in the U.S. Trout is slightly less omega-3-rich than canned pink salmon, but it’s a good source of potassium and selenium. It also contains more vitamin B6 and vitamin B6 and B12 than you need in a single day.

When it comes from the right places, lake trout tastes a lot better. Seafood Watch recommends purchasing lake trout that has been caught in Lake Superior waters.

Pictured recipe: Smorrebrod With Herring, Beets & Arugula

  1. Herring
    The Nordic Diet is known for its herring, which has more omega-3 than trout, sardines and mackerel. Herring is a great source of vitamin D and selenium. On restaurant menus you will often find herring that is canned, cured, or smoked, but this fish can also be enjoyed fresh.

Seafood Watch suggests buying U.S. Atlantic Herring caught using purse seines, or California Herring caught using set gillnets. You may be able to get help from your local fishmonger if you are not familiar with them.

Five fish to keep away from
Many environmental groups have also advocated removing many fish from the menu. EatingWell has chosen to concentrate on the five large fish listed below: fish that are both depleted, and in many cases, have higher levels of PCBs and mercury. Environmental Protection Fund (EDF), has also posted health advisories about some of these fish.

  1. Bluefin Tuna
    Seafood Watch has warned that the populations of bluefin are overfished and depleted. The World Wildlife Fund also listed it as an endangered species. EDF advises that you should not consume more than one serving of bluefin per month. It contains high levels of PCBs and mercury.
  2. Orange Roughy
    The fish is slow to reproduce, but it lives a long life. This makes it vulnerable to overfishing. EDF says that orange roughy can live up to 149 years. EDF issued a health advisory because of the high levels of mercury.
  3. Salmon Farmed in Pens, Atlantic
    Open-net pens are used to raise most farmed salmon. These pens are usually packed tightly and ridden with parasites, diseases and other pests that can threaten wild salmon trying to reach their spawning waters. Open-net farmed fish are often given antibiotics as a way to combat illnesses. Their waste and food also pollute the ocean. Seafood Watch has awarded freshwater-farmed Salmon a Best Selection rating. Some open-net techniques are also rated Good Alternatives (see more salmon tips from Seafood Watch). It is hoped that consumer pressure will encourage more farms to continue to adopt better practices.
  4. Mahi-Mahi (Costa Rica, Guatemala & Peru)
    The Environmental Protection Fund rates imported longline mahi Mahi or dolphinfish as one of the least eco-friendly species. Bycatch such as sea turtles or seabirds can be a concern when mahi mahi is caught. Seafood Watch rates mahi-mahi from the U.S., Ecuador and other countries caught with troll lines as ‘Good Alternative.’ This is a better option for anyone who wants to eat this fish.
  5. Halibut, Wild-Caught (Atlantic)
    It is a fish that grows slowly and matures over a long period of time (up to 50 years), making it prone for overfishing. The U.S. has banned industrial harvesting of Atlantic halibut, which is found in the North Atlantic Ocean. Seafood Watch warns against it. Pacific halibut, on the other hand, comes from well managed fisheries that cause little damage to habitats and have low bycatch rates of other marine life.

By Brierley H. Horton, M.S. RD, and Lauren Wicks